Training Aircraft Accident Investigators


Aircraft investigators are obligated to investigate serious incidents and accidents in accordance with Annex 13 . It seems outstanding however that despite all the training a pilot, air traffic controller and a licensed aircraft engineer has to undergo, there is no formal qualification or requirement per se for an accident investigator as most are recruited on aspects such as technical experience as well as personality traits1. ICAO(International Civil Aviation Organization) however have areas they deem important for the investigator to learn, as well as a requirement on application of Human Factors to the investigation process that the FAA(Federal Aviation Administration)also require to be incorporated into the training process. The NTSB(National Transportation Safety Board) along with other Aviation learning institutions recognize the importance of offering training in the required areas of knowledge required by ICAO and the FAA.

Objective of Incident & Accident Investigation

• Prevent the incident or accident from occurring again.

Recruitment Requirements

The recruitment of an aircraft investigator is based on their technical experience as well as personality traits. Once they are recruited they are given further training on areas ICAO and the FAA deem compulsory to know for this job 2.

The Investigation Process

The investigation of an incident or accident can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle. However in the case of an aircraft investigator he has to put all the pieces of evidence together before he can have a clear picture of what occurred. So although in actual sense a jigsaw puzzle has a picture in which you have a direction in piecing together the objects, the investigator has unknown pieces and in some cases the investigator is not able to achieve a clear picture of what actually lead to the incident or accident, and has to put it down to a number of activities. Using the SHELL and REASON Models aid the investigator in establishing the chain of activities that lead to the incident or accident. Due to the fact that aircraft investigators when required and where applicable offer and make safety recommendation that those in the industry have to abide by, their training is of at-most importance if a proper thorough investigation is to be carried out.

ICAO Recommended Training Areas for Investigators2

1. Good understanding of the depth investigation that’s necessary in order for an investigation to conform with the regulations, legislation and other requirements of the state for which they are conducting the investigation.

2. Knowledge of aircraft accident investigation techniques.

3. Understanding of aircraft operators and the technical areas of aviation.

4. The ability to obtain and manage the relevant technical assistance and resources required to support the investigation.

5. Ability to collect, document as well as preserve evidence.

6. Ability to identify and analyse relevant evidence so as to determine the cause and if appropriate make safety recommendations.

7. Ability to write a final report that meets the requirements of the accident investigation authority of the state conducting the investigation.

One aviation body that offers complimentary study on the skills and methods of investigation in accordance with ICAO's recommendation on knowledge the investigator must know is the NTSB. They offer teaching and training in areas such as;

NTSB Offers Teaching On4;

  • Site documentation and management.
  • Operational and mechanical aspects of aircraft performance.
  • Turbine and reciprocating engines.
  • Fire and explosions.
  • Fracture recognition.
  • Weather.
  • Radar analysis.
  • NTSB "party" process.
  • Progress meetings.
  • Survival factors.
  • Human performance.
  • Survivor interviews and witness reports.
  • Working with local area responders.
  • Safety recommendations.
  • Case studies include midair collisions, in-flight fires, in-flight breakups and weather-related accidents TWA flight 800 tutorial, examination of the reconstruction of the aircraft wreckage, and a discussion on how the NTSB undertakes major accident investigations.

Human Factors in Accident Investigation.

Accident investigators are required to have an in depth teaching on Human Factors (HF) as HF is a multi-disciplinary field that encompasses physiology, psychology,engineering,medicine,sociology as well as anthropology, thus it does not only aid in understanding the causation behind accidents and incidents by using the conceptual models for example the',Swiss Cheese, Reason's model' it aids the investigator in understanding many other disciplines associated with Human Factors as a whole.

The FAA also incorporates Human Factors in the training of aircraft investigators so that the investigators are able to3;

• Utilize SHELL and REASON conceptual models in the collection of human factors evidence in an accident or incident.

• Determine how to uncover the problems arising from the interactions of people in the air space system with other people, hardware, software, and the environment.

• Know how the FAA responsibilities relate to the human factors aspects of aircraft accident or incident investigation.

• Investigate human factors as an central part of the investigation of an accident or incident and coordinate details with the FAA, NTSB, other federal, state, and local agencies, and the
aircraft manufacturers.

• Demonstrate guidelines for the compilation of human factors evidence data collection to assist the FAA in including this aspect into a recommendation for accident prevention.


Proper training of accident investigators is critical to the safety management, if the correct or right lessons are to be learnt from past incidents and accidents.

1. Prof. Braithwaite.G,. & Dr. Greaves.M.J.(2009). Training Accident Investigators. Journal of Aviation Management 2009: Singapore Aviation Academy.
2. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),(2003). Circular 298 AN/172 Training Guidelines for Aircraft Accident Investigators.
3. FAA. Human Factors in Accident Investigation. Retrieved on the 28 September, 2010, from
4. NTSB Training Center Aircraft Accident Investigation. Retrieved 30 September, 2010, from

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Accident Investigation
Aviation accidents and incidents

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Melanie AttanMelanie Attan

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