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NTSB Chairman Sumwalt to step down

Sumwalt, a 14,000-hour former airline pilot, has been board chairman since 2017, and has been a member of the NTSB since 2006.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt plans to step down from his post on June 30. Sumwalt, pictured here during an online interview with AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden, said an aviation accident sparked his interest in aviation.

Homendy is a railroad and pipeline safety expert who joined the NTSB in 2018.

Sumwalt’s tenure was marked by appointments from three U.S. presidents, as he was first appointed and designated vice chairman by President George W. Bush, reappointed for a five-year term by President Barack Obama in 2011, and named the NTSB’s fourteenth chairman in 2017 and 2019 by President Donald Trump, according to Sumwalt’s official biography.

“Before joining the NTSB, Mr. Sumwalt was a pilot for 32 years, including 24 years with Piedmont Airlines and US Airways,” it said, adding that at US Airways, Sumwalt took on a special assignment in the flight safety department and served on the airline’s Flight Operational Quality Assurance monitoring team. Later he managed a Fortune 500 company’s aviation department, it said.

Sumwalt was a consultant to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System for several years and has been a prolific writer on aviation safety topics and accident investigating.

Known for his strong advocacy for transportation safety, Sumwalt opened the April 6 NTSB meeting that announced the 2021–2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements with a statement in which he noted that “just as this list guides the Board’s advocacy efforts, it serves as a beacon to safety advocates outside our walls.

“It tells everybody that the NTSB embraces a safety improvement, that the time for action is now, and that [the] effort to make progress on these list items is likely to result in lives saved and injuries prevented.”

Also in April, in a video interview with AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden, Sumwalt, who hails from South Carolina, retold a story of how he became involved in aviation literally “by accident.”

Having gone to the scene of a fatal aviation accident that occurred during his senior year in high school, Sumwalt, then 17, found himself thinking frequently about the event. After showing a friend where the accident happened, Sumwalt said, he stopped by a local flight school and signed up for flying lessons.

“So that’s how I got started. I literally got started into aviation by accident,” he told McSpadden.

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