An aviation accident investigator may also be called an air safety investigator. They investigate, study and report on airplane crashes to figure out how and why they happened. Aviation accident investigators cover a myriad of areas and try to discover the cause of accidents. This is done through various means including interviewing survivors, reviewing and analyzing flight and maintenance records, studying human performance issues and operations, examining engines, systems, instruments and other airplane parts, Including operations, flight recorders, structures, cabin safety, aircraft performance (engineering), airports, air traffic services, and power plant (engines). to try and figure out what caused an accident.
The NTSB defines an accident as an "occurrence" which is associated with operating an aircraft between the time people board an aircraft with the intention of flying and when people get off. This also applies when a person is killed or is seriously injured and there is substantial damage to the aircraft.
An interesting alternative to working in the private sector is a career in government. Many highly responsible aviation positions are to be found in the FAA and other Federal agencies. In addition, state and local government agencies are involved in aviation.
Among its many functions in aviation, the FAA is responsible for controlling the movement of aircraft throughout the nation, establishing and maintaining electronic navigation aids, licensing pilots and aircraft mechanics, and certifying the airworthiness of aircraft.
A major source of aviation careers lies in jobs with federal, state and local government agencies.
Civil aviation careers in the Federal Government for men and women are found within the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration; the Civil Aeronautics Board; and a growing number of other Federal departments and agencies. All of these aviation jobs come under the Federal Civil Service, and wage scales are determined by Congress, which, from time to time, adjusts the pay levels to bring them in line with comparable jobs in private business and industry. Salaries for Federal Civil Service employees are established into two chief categories: General Schedule (for those employees who perform administrative, managerial, technical, clerical and professional jobs and who are paid on an annual basis) and the Federal Wage System (for those employees who perform jobs associated with the trades and crafts and who are paid wages on an hourly basis).
Most Federal Civil Service employees in the aviation field are covered by the General Schedule and their salaries vary according to their grade level (GS-1 through GS-18). Within each of the grades provided in the General Schedule, provision is made for periodic pay increases based on an acceptable level of performance. With an acceptable level of competence, the waiting period of advancement to steps two, three and four is one year, steps five, six and seven is two years, steps eight, nine and ten is three years.
Forty hours constitutes a normal work-week. Additional payment (called premium pay) is made for shift work involving duty between 6 o'clock p.m. and 6 o'clock a.m. and for work during Sundays and holidays. Merit promotions are awarded under provisions of a Civil Service approved merit promotion plan.
Most federal employees under Civil Service participate in a liberal retirement plan. Employees earn from 13 to 26 days of paid annual vacation, depending upon the length of service, and 13 days of paid sick leave each year. Health insurance, low-cost group life insurance, credit union service, and compensation and medical care for injury on the job are other benefits offered.
The largest number of aviation jobs found within the Federal Government (outside the Department of Defense) is with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the Department of Transportation. The FAA, with a total of approximately 47,000 employees, is charged with the administration and enforcement of all federal air regulations to insure the safety of air transportation. The FAA also promotes, guides and assists the development of a national system of civil airports. The FAA provides pilots with flight information and air traffic control services from flight planning to landing.
A major portion of the work an accident investigator does will be at the accident scene. The average working day is eight hours, but during an accident investigation, hours may stretch up to 15 hours. Typically, NTSB accident investigators are "on call" 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and travel to all corners of the world to investigate significant accidents. Because of the nature of accidents, assignments are given on short notice and may involve working unusual hours for long periods of time. Accident sites can be set in remote areas with rugged terrain, and can be in a variety of physically challenging conditions including swamps, deserts, or mountains. Travel to the accident site may require strenuous walking, hiking and climbing in adverse topographic, weather, and atmospheric conditions. Once at the accident scene, you must be able to physically maneuver around the accident site, which may include climbing in and out of various parts of the wreckage. Since assignments can pose hazards to your health, you may be required to wear and operate appropriate personal protective equipment. You are required to carry all necessary equipment, tools and instruments to document all findings as you may photograph, video tape, make measurements and take notes while at the accident scene. NTSB accident investigators interview survivors and witnesses and examine aircraft parts, instruments, and engines. They also review maintenance and flight records to determine the probable cause of airplane accidents. Travel and field work typify the investigator's position.
Senior level responsibilities might include managing all phases of airline accident investigations and supervising and controlling the investigative team, representatives of the FAA, the airframe and engine manufacturer, pilot and flight attendant unions, etc. Comprehensive reports will be prepared and presented, often in front of public officials.
Accident investigators working for the FAA identity safety deficiencies and unsafe conditions They analyze accident data and other safety data to identify safety issues and trends.
The NTSB is responsible for investigating aviation accidents in the United States and its territories. By law, the NTSB determines the accident’s “probable cause” and makes recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future. At the beginning of an investigation, the Safety Board invites certain organizations that can contribute technical support – such as the aircraft operator and manufacturer and affiliate unions – to participate as “parties” to the investigation. Because major accidents are rare, there is often little continuity among the individuals sent by organizations to be party representatives. This often results in confusion during an already stressful time.
Typical Requirements and/or Experience
Entry level accident investigator positions are difficult to get into. Investigative experience as an insurance adjuster or piloting a plane in law enforcement is helpful. Entry Level or trainees typically must have one year of specialized experience demonstrating knowledge of civilian aircraft design, manufacture and maintenance operations or civilian aircraft operational requirements, practices and procedures. This experience may include work as a pilot for scheduled air carrier, A&P Mechanic or certified flight instructor. Possession of a valid commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating. Possession of a current first or second class Airman's Medical Certificate.
Requirements of higher level positions may include experience as an entry level or broad knowledge of aviation accident investigations, practices, procedures, and techniques. Specialized experience may also include that of a flight safety officer, flight operations supervisor, aircraft maintenance supervisor, designated pilot examiner, flight instruction supervisor, or flight test pilot. Typically accident investigators must have a high school diploma as well as specialized training in their area of transportation. A college degree is not always required however, most accident investigators possess a vocational or community college diploma. Military experience, degrees in engineering, and law, and military accident investigation schools are helpful.
Your skill-set should include strong written and communication skills, inquisitive, ability to empathize and know your audience, analyze and write because you have to get it all down on paper. factual data collection, and public speaking is a plus.
Qualification requirements at the NTSB include: Accident investigators need to be in good physical shape to meet the requirements of the job. Must have excellent organizational and technical writing skills, and ability to effectively speak and write English. The information taken from the accident scene must be assembled and or organized into logical factual and analytical reports. You must also be able to make effective oral presentations about your findings upon request. A valid state driver's license and have the ability to qualify for a US Government issued travel charge card. Aviation related engineering, medical and/or operational experience is required for a variety of professional positions with this safety related organization.
Typically accident investigators must have a high school diploma as well as specialized training in their area of transportation. A college degree is not always required however, most accident investigators possess a vocational or community college diploma.
Married and unmarried men and women, with or without children are eligible. Persons who are widowed or divorced, also are eligible.
It is the policy of most aviation companies to provide equal employment opportunity to all individuals regardless of their race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, military and veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, or any other characteristic protected by state or federal law. Most aviation companies are strongly committed to this policy, and believe in the concept and spirit of the United States law.
Most aviation companies are committed to assuring that:
All recruiting, hiring, training, promotion, compensation, and other employment related programs are provided fairly to all persons on an equal opportunity basis without regard to race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, military and veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status or any other characteristic protected by law;
Employment decisions are based on the principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action;
All personnel actions such as compensation, benefits, transfers, training, and participation in social and recreational programs are administered without regard to race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, disability, military and veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status or any other characteristic protected by law, and;
Employees and applicants will not be subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats, coercion or discrimination because they have exercised any right protected by law.
Most aviation companies believe in and practice equal opportunity and affirmative action. All employees are responsible for supporting the concept of equal opportunity and affirmative action and assisting the company in meeting its objectives.
Most aviation companies maintain Affirmative Action Plans for minorities, women, disabled persons and veterans.
EEOC has jurisdiction of the prohibitions against employment discrimination codified in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. These laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) enforce the prohibitions against federal employment discrimination codified in the CSRA. The OSC will defer those bases of discrimination under EEOC's jurisdiction to the respective federal agency and its EEO process. The CSRA also prohibits employment discrimination in the federal government based on marital status, political affiliation and conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee, none of which are within EEOC's jurisdiction. Moreover, the law defines ten other prohibited personnel practices in the federal government, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the OSC and the MSPB. See Prohibited Personnel Practices at http://www.osc.gov/ppp.htm.
Additional information may also be found on the the EEOC web site located at http://www.eeoc.gov/
Wages and Benefits
Most Federal Civil Service employees in the aviation field are covered by the General Schedule and their salaries vary according to their grade level (GS-1 through GS-18). Within each of the grades provided in the General Schedule, provision is made for periodic pay increases based on an acceptable level of performance. With an acceptable level of competence, the waiting period of advancement to steps two, three and four is one year, steps five, six and seven is two years, steps eight, nine and ten is three years. Trainees are paid while learning their jobs.Salary and experience rankings resemble those of the Department of Transportation.
Salaries generally start out around $21,000-$29,600 per year. According to the NTSB, salaries top out at approximately 102,000.
Salaries and benefits can vary. For an updated look at salaries in the aviation industry, view the Avjobs.com Salary Report.
Where the jobs are and who hires
If you're considering work as an accident investigator, you will be employed by a Federal agency such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or by insurance companies. Within the FAA, the Office of Accident Investigation (AAI) is the principal organization which investigates aviation accidents. There are many job opportunities within the FAA's accident investigative teams. While the NTSB has jurisdiction, the FAA participates in the NTSB's investigation to learn what prevention actions is should initiate to prevent a recurrence of similar accidents. They have a common objective of promoting safety in aviation and preventing aircraft accidents. The NTSB is mandated by Congress and investigates aviation accidents.
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Outlook for the Future
Through 2012, the BLS expects slower than average growth in this and related fields.
Some universities, such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, offer co-op programs, which are a good way to get your foot in the door with the NTSB.
To locate educational facilities with programs related to this position, search Avjobs Aviation School Directory. The Avjobs Aviation School Directory makes researching and finding an aviation college, university, flight school or professional training facility simple.
Additional resources you may find helpful include:
Federal Aviation Administration 800 Independence Ave. S.W. Washington, DC 20591
National Transportation Safety Board 490 L'Enfant Plaza S.W. Washington, DC 20594
Aviation International News 214 Franklin Ave. Midland Park, NJ 07432
Many other Federal agencies play important roles in aviation. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for example, is responsible for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth's atmosphere.
Numerous Federal departments, bureaus, and agencies operate aircraft to carry on their work more effectively. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior uses airplanes to conduct wildlife censuses; the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service uses aircraft to check on aerial forest-spraying contracted to commercial operators or to oversee forest fire fighting procedures; the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice utilizes aircraft to detect people entering the United States illegally.
Many other federal government departments, bureaus and agencies operate aircraft to carry on their work more effectively. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior uses airplanes to make wildlife census; the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service uses aircraft to check on aerial forest spraying contracted to commercial operators or to oversee forest fire-fighting procedures; the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice uses aircraft to detect people entering the U.S. illegally; and the U.S. Coast Guard operates aircraft for search and rescue purposes. Although pilot and mechanic jobs within these agencies are comparatively few in number, they are mentioned to complete the full picture of aviation career opportunities within the Federal Civil Service.
Pilots for these federal government agencies fly air-craft to transport office staff members and supplies, perform aerial surveys, make wildlife census, etc. as required by their particular government office. They fly in single or multi-engine aircraft during day or night, as required, and over all kinds of terrain in all kinds of flyable weather.
The jobs are based throughout the country wherever the department operations require. Pilots must have from 1,200 to 2,500 flying hours experience, including extended cross-country flights over land and/or water during which they perform their own navigating. They must be able to pass a First Class or a Second Class FAA physical examination every six or twelve months, respectively. The annual salary ranges from GS-9 to GS-12, depending upon experience and educational background.