Finding Information About Accidents and Incidents

Recently, one of our members asked for tips on how to find out past accident and incident information when you know the “N” number of an aircraft.

ASA strongly recommends that distribution companies focus on exposure to unusual heat, stress or environmental conditions (instead of focusing on past installation on  an accident- or incident-related aircraft) because this is more closely aligned to the events that can affect an aircraft part (and aircraft parts can be exposed to unusual heat, stress or environmental conditions in circumstances that are not accidents or incidents). Nonetheless we recognize that ASA members sometimes need to review accident or incident records that may have affected an aircraft part.

If you need to seek accident or incident records, then the first thing you need to realize is that not all incident data needs to be reported.  The NTSB’s rules require accidents to be reported, but only certain incidents need to be reported (“serous incidents”).  The list of serious incidents that need to be reported to the NTSB can be found in 49 C.F.R. § 830.5.

Because you can have an incident that might be deemed to be less than serious, it is possible to have an incident that affects an aircraft but that is not reported to the NTSB.  Thus, we caution distributors to avoid making warranties that could be false, like “this aircraft part has never been installed on an accident or incident related aircraft.”  If you do not know the entire operational history of the aircraft on which the part has been installed then you could be missing an incident of which someone (but not you) has a record.

I once got a phone call from an air carrier employee who was upset because an ASA member had signed a “non-incident” statement and the air carrier employee knew  that the part was incident-related.  When I asked how he know this, he explained that the part had been surplussed by his airline, and their internal records showed that it had been installed on an incident related aircraft.  When I asked if this had been disclosed when the part was surplussed, he admitted that his air carrier’s policy was to never provide past incident/accident history to buyers of aircraft parts.

This anecdote illustrates two points.  First, air carriers surplus parts without providing past history, so you never know what past events might have affected the part (so a hidden damage inspection is often a good idea during the overhaul regardless of the known past history).  Second, someone else in the chain of commerce might know more about your part than you do, so be wary of making guaranties about the past history of the part unless you really know the full history; or, in the alternative, explicitly limit your guaranties to the scope of your own knowledge.  An example of such a limited scope guaranty might be one that says  “while this aircraft part was in our possession, it was not subject to unusual heat, stress or environmental conditions.”

With this advice out of the way, lets look at some places where you can look up accident and serious incident information.

The NTSB maintains a database of accidents and serious incidents online.  It can be found at http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/index.aspx.

The FAA maintains a database at ASIAS that includes preliminary accident and incident reports.  The main database can be found at http://www.asias.faa.gov/.  You can also search the FAA’s accident/incident database by going to the FAA Accident and Incident Data System (AIDS).

Remember that not all incidents are required to be reported, so these databases will not be complete expositions of all possible incidents!

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About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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