First Word: The NTSB: Listening To Complaints and Acting

Just over a year ago, the NTSB introduced a new accident database search engine called CAROL (Case Analysis and Reporting Online). For anyone seeking an aircraft accident report for an accident that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2008, CAROL became the required search engine. The user-friendly search engine that I’d used with great success for years—I’ll call it the legacy system—could only be used for accidents that occurred before Jan. 1, 2008. 

For years I’d been using the legacy system to find the 100 most recent NTSB reports for the type of aircraft we review each month in our Used Aircraft Guide. It usually took less than a minute to compose the search and generate the list of applicable reports. 

My experience with CAROL for the first several months was, frankly, awful. I expressed myself vehemently about CAROL shortcomings in this magazine, beginning with the October 2021 issue. At the same time, I reached out to the NTSB and expressed my concerns as well as those I heard from readers. 

The NTSB responded to me—in detail—via a number of email exchanges and a long, candid Zoom meeting with Loren Groff, the NTSB’s chief data scientist, and Eric Weiss in the public relations department. 

I’ll start with my conclusions: The NTSB personnel who created CAROL obviously give a damn about aviation safety; they want CAROL to be a search engine capable of finding extremely detailed accident data; they listen to user complaints; they’ve already fixed nearly every issue I identified; they are actively working on the rest; and they willingly told me about issues other users had identified and what they had done to fix those. 

On top of working to make CAROL better and more user-friendly, the NTSB is going to keep the legacy system and, within the next year or so, make it capable of searching the full aircraft accident database, not just for accidents that occurred prior to Jan. 1, 2008. Users will have a choice of using CAROL or the legacy system. 

In the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act the NTSB was directed to create a searchable multi-modal transportation database and given the funding to do so. We in aviation forget that general aviation is only a small piece of the forms of transportation that the NTSB is charged with monitoring. However, the aviation accident database is one of the best and Congress wanted the NTSB to improve the databases for other forms of transportation and create a method of searching for data across all forms of transportation.  

In our Zoom meeting, Loren Groff spent some time showing the capabilities of CAROL to search for details in accident report data. In essence, if the NTSB investigator put information into an accident report, CAROL can now pull it up. 

FAQs to assist users are in process as is at least one “How to” video. 

My takeaway from a year of using CAROL and speaking about it in detail with Weiss and Groff is that the developers of CAROL were successful in creating a search engine that targeted the sophisticated user as well as those doing a very simple search. However, it was overwhelming for those looking for something in the middle. Plus there were some bugs in that it didn’t always pull up all of the relevant reports. 

In my opinion, because the NTSB has been responsive to feedback from users, and CAROL creators care about their creation, it appears to me that the biggest problems have been addressed and work is continuing on the others. I applaud that the legacy system is going to be coming back with full database access. Most of all, I appreciate the willingness of personnel at the NTSB to listen to user complaints and take action. —Rick Durden