July 29, 2021

Reflecting on his time as chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Robert Sumwalt said he was proud to represent the agency and championed the work the group does to saves lives, adding, “Whoever saves a life, it’s as if he has saved an entire world.”

Sumwalt headlined the monthly Aeroclub Luncheon July 28 in Washington, DC. The virtual event focused on Sumwalt’s extensive career in the industry and examined his success as head of the NTSB, where he served as chair for nearly 15 years.

Before his role at the NTSB, Sumwalt worked within the business aviation community and managed a small flight department for a utility company in South Carolina, and also was a member of the NBAA Safety Committee. He served as a keynote speaker for NBAA’s Inaugural online Safety Week in October 2020.

In addition, Sumwalt flew 24 years with Piedmont Airlines and U.S. Airways.

Advancing Safety in Aviation

Sumwalt emphasized the continued need to prioritize safety in the aviation industry and highlighted critical safety issues related to the commercial space industry, autonomous vehicles, human factors and safety management systems. With respect to automation, he noted, “We need to be deliberate about how we do it, whether on the roadways or in space. It offers great promise, but we must do it properly.”

Sumwalt added that human factors should be a core topic for the next generation of aviators as they train for jobs in the airline industry. “We need to understand how humans operate and the limitations of the human body.”

General Aviation Community

Sumwalt’s diligent work on safety awareness and leadership has greatly influenced business aviation. He reaffirmed the call to prioritize safety within the general aviation (GA) community, citing the excellent relationship with the FAA. Together, both the agency and GA communities work diligently to identify safety issues and solutions.

“Safety is the priority in general aviation. When we look at where many of the accidents are occurring, it’s due to loss of control. If we can reduce the reasons for fatalities, then we have a great impact on improving safety,” said Sumwalt. “The GA community is doing a good job with it so far, and we need to continue to find innovative ways to mitigate the loss of control incidents.”