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Speeches

Opening Statement: Steep Climb and Uncontrolled Descent During Takeoff, Bagram Afghanistan
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Boardroom
7/14/2015

Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a report on the crash of a Boeing 747-400 shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on April 29, 2013.

This investigation was originally led by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation. At that time, the NTSB sent an accredited representative to assist. In October 2014, the Ministry offered to delegate the investigation to the NTSB and the NTSB accepted, becoming the lead agency.

The accident was a tragic one; it was a cargo flight in which all seven crewmembers on board the airplane died in the crash. On behalf of the NTSB, I would like to express our condolences to the family members, friends, and colleagues of those who were lost. Your loved ones took on an important mission to support American forces abroad, and lost their lives not to enemy fire, but to an accident. We cannot change what happened, but in fully investigating this accident, we hope to find ways to prevent such an accident from happening again. Furthermore, we appreciate your patience throughout this complex international investigation.

The accident airplane was operated by National Air Cargo, Inc., doing business as National Airlines, under a multimodal contract with the U.S. Transportation Command. National Airlines and the cargo-handling vendor, National Air Cargo, or NAC, were transporting a special cargo load consisting of very large military motor vehicles, some of it for the first time.

These circumstances magnified the importance of having properly validated procedures in place, and having those procedures carefully and adequately implemented by personnel who understand the regulatory and safety basis of the procedures.

Our investigation led us to examine not only the actions of National Airlines’ personnel and the procedures and training in place at National Airlines, but also the role of the regulator. We reviewed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and guidance in place at the time of the accident for securing such cargo, and the unique challenges posed by exercising oversight of these operations in a war zone.

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements includes strengthening procedural compliance. This accident, unfortunately, highlights that individual employees are not the only ones who play an important role in procedural compliance. In this accident, we must ask whether the procedures themselves were adequate to prevent the tragic outcome, even if employees had followed them without fail.

In addition, the regulator must provide the oversight needed to ensure that company-developed procedures are compliant with FAA-approved data when critical to safety.  Further, the regulator must enable this process through clear guidance and an inspection workforce that has clearly defined roles and the knowledge required to effectively determine that procedures are adequate.  

To their credit, the FAA, National Airlines, and the National Air Carrier Association (NACA) took numerous actions to enhance safety both at National Airlines and across the cargo industry.

Today we will hear what additional actions the FAA can take to prevent a recurrence of the 2013 Bagram crash.

Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.