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The Do’s and Do Not’s of Aircraft Accident and Incident Reporting

By Gregory J. Reigel

© 2005 All rights reserved.

An airman recently asked me whether he needed to report an aircraft “mishap” in which he was involved to the FAA or NTSB. When I told him it would depend upon exactly what type of “mishap” he was referring to, he provided me with a more detailed explanation of what had happened. With this information in hand, and a quick review of 49 CFR Part 830 (also known as NTSB Rule 830), I was able to tell him that he did not need to report his “mishap”.

Unfortunately, quite a few airmen are either uncertain of or unfamiliar with the reporting requirements of Part 830 and they don’t discuss the issue with an aviation attorney prior to making the decision whether to report. This is unfortunate because some airmen have reported aircraft incidents when they weren’t obligated to make the report and have drawn undue attention from the FAA. Knowing when you are required to report and when you are not can save an airman a lot of unnecessary grief.

Who Do You Notify?

Part 830.5 requires that the operator of an aircraft provide notification of any “accident” and certain “incidents” immediately. It is important to note that you must notify the NTSB, not the FAA. The NTSB is a federal agency separate from the FAA and it has the authority to investigate aircraft accidents and reportable incidents. Although the NTSB delegates some accident investigation to the FAA, the notification required by Part 830 must be made to the NTSB.

The notification must be given to the NTSB immediately. Part 830.6 states that the initial notification must include the following information: (1) Type, nationality, and registration marks of the aircraft; (2) Name of owner, and operator of the aircraft; (3) Name of the pilot-in-command; (4) Date and time of the accident; (5) Last point of departure and point of intended landing of the aircraft; (6) Position of the aircraft with reference to some easily defined geographical point; (7) Number of persons aboard, number killed, and number seriously injured; (8) Nature of the accident, the weather and the extent of damage to the aircraft, so far as is known; and (9) A description of any explosives, radioactive materials, or other dangerous articles carried.

In addition to the initial notification, a written report of an accident must be made on NTSB Form 6120 and filed with the nearest NTSB field office within 10 days of the accident, or for a reportable incident only as requested by an authorized representative of the NTSB. The form is available from the NTSB field offices and can also be obtained from the local FAA FSDO.

Who Is Required To Provide The Notification?

The rule defines an “operator” as “any person who causes or authorizes the operation of an aircraft” which can include the owner, lessee, or anyone flying or using the aircraft. Please note that this does not necessarily mean the pilot. An aircraft owner or FBO can make the report even if the pilot does not. However, if someone other than the pilot makes the report, Part 830.15(b) requires that the crewmembers, if they are physically able at the time the report is submitted, attach a statement providing the facts, conditions, and circumstances relating to the accident or incident as they appear to him or her. If the crewmember is incapacitated, he or she must submit the statement as soon as he or she is physically able.

Accident, Incident or Neither?

Although the terms “accident” and “incident” have commonly understood meanings, for purposes of this rule you must understand the meanings defined in Part 830.2 in order to determine whether you are dealing with an accident, a reportable incident, or neither. Under the Rule, an “Accident” is “an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.” Although “death” is easily understood, the rule provides specific definitions for the terms “serious injury” and “substantial damage”. A “serious injury” is defined as “any injury which: (1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.”

"Substantial damage means damage or failure which adversely affects the structural strength, performance, or flight characteristics of the aircraft, and which would normally require major repair or replacement of the affected component." Substantial damage does not include: engine failure or damage limited to an engine if only one engine fails or is damaged, bent fairings or cowling, dented skin, small punctured holes in the skin or fabric, ground damage to rotor or propeller blades, and damage to landing gear, wheels, tires, flaps, engine accessories, brakes, or wingtips./1/

An “incident” is defined as “an occurrence other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations.” You do not need to report an incident involving a small aircraft except when it involves: 1) Flight control system malfunction or failure; (2) Inability of any required flight crewmember to perform normal flight duties as a result of injury or illness; (3) Failure of structural components of a turbine engine excluding compressor and turbine blades and vanes; (4) In-flight fire; or (5) Aircraft collide in flight; (6) Damage to property, other than the aircraft, estimated to exceed $25,000 for repair (including materials and labor) or fair market value in the event of total loss, whichever is less./2/

Incidents involving large, multiengine aircraft (more than 12,500 pounds maximum certificated takeoff weight) must be reported if they involve: (1) In-flight failure of electrical systems which requires the sustained use of an emergency bus powered by a back-up source such as a battery, auxiliary power unit, or air-driven generator to retain flight control or essential instruments; (2) In-flight failure of hydraulic systems that results in sustained reliance on the sole remaining hydraulic or mechanical system for movement of flight control surfaces; (3) Sustained loss of the power or thrust produced by two or more engines; and (4) An evacuation of an aircraft in which an emergency egress system is utilized.

Conclusion

As you can see from the rule, the definitions are very specific. Under the rule’s definitions, minimal bent metal or your typical gear-up landings do not trigger the notification and reporting requirements. However, any time you find yourself in a situation in which a “mishap” has occurred, it is important that you familiarize yourself with and compare the facts of your situation to Rule 830.

Why is this important? First, because it is a law with which we must comply. And, although a quick search did not reveal any enforcement or civil penalty actions based upon a failure to provide notification of an accident or incident, such an action is possible.

Second, an aircraft mishap can be costly and embarrassing enough without drawing undue attention to it with an unnecessary report to the NTSB or FAA. Certainly if your “mishap” fits within the definition of an accident or reportable incident, you need to provide notification as required by the rule. However, if it does not, you do not need to report it to the NTSB.

The FAA has pursued enforcement actions against airmen arising out of reported aircraft “mishaps” that Rule 830 did not require that the airmen report. By understanding the obligations imposed by Rule 830 you can ensure your compliance and avoid any unnecessary attention from the FAA if you are involved in an aircraft “mishap”.

/1/ The NTSB has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to expand Part 830 to include certain events that are not currently subject to Part 830's reporting requirements. The proposed amendment includes revision of the definitions in Part 830.2 to remove reference to ground damage to helicopter rotor blades from the list of exclusions in order to "bring events involving ground damage to main or tail rotor blades within the definition of an accident and clearly make them reportable events".

/2/ The NTSB is also proposing to amend Part 830.5 so that the following events are added to the current list of events requiring immediate NTSB notification: (a) failure of any internal turbine engine component that results in the escape of debris other than out the exhaust path; (b) structural failure of a propeller resulting in the release of all or a portion of a propeller blade from an aircraft, excluding release caused solely by ground contact; (c) loss of information from a majority of an aircraft's certified electronic primary displays (excluding momentary inaccuracy or flickering from display systems that are certified installations); and (d) any Airborne Collision and Avoidance System (ACAS) resolution advisories (RA) issued when an aircraft is being operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan.


The information contained in this web-site is intended for the education and benefit of the Reigel Law Firm, Ltd.'s clients and prospective clients. The information should not be relied upon as advice to help you with your specific issue. Each case is unique and must be analyzed by an attorney licensed to practice in your area with respect to the particular facts and applicable current law before any advice can be given. Sending an e-mail to the Reigel Law Firm, Ltd. does not create an attorney-client relationship. Advice will not be given by e-mail until an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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