Transportation Safety Analyst, CBS News
Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt currently serves as transportation safety analyst for CBS News. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker on a broad variety of topics including organizational leadership, crisis communications, safety leadership, accident investigation, and safety culture.
Previously, Sumwalt served as Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), where he served from August 2006 to June 2021, after being appointed by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump.
While serving on the NTSB, Sumwalt was involved in the deliberation and determination of probable cause for over 250 transportation accidents, across all modes of transportation – pipeline, rail, aviation, hazardous materials, highway, and marine. As chairman, Sumwalt provided strong leadership to establish a vision, values, and goals for the agency, which helped advance the NTSB’s standing to be listed as one of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Under his leadership the agency achieved measurable improvements in employee engagement and support for diversity, which rose to all-time high levels.
Sumwalt has presented more than 300 speeches and testimony on transportation safety issues around the world, and he has testified before US Congress on 17 occasions as an expert in transportation safety protocols and execution, including testimony on the Boeing 737 Max, advanced automation vehicles, and safety affecting the nation’s railroads and pipelines.
Sumwalt served as NTSB on-scene spokesperson for 35 major transportation accidents, which involved conducting and fielding questions in over 100 formal press briefings, and more than 200 one-on-one interviews with print and broadcast media. He conducted live interviews on every major U.S. television network including The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and CNN New Day. He also conducted in-studio appearances on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. In July 2021, he joined CBS News as the network’s on-air/off-air transportation safety expert, consultant, and analyst.
A skilled pilot, Sumwalt was a pilot for 32 years, including 24 years with a major US-based international airline. He has co-authored a book on aircraft accidents and has published more than 100 articles on transportation safety and aircraft accident investigation.
Sumwalt earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Aeronautical Science (with Distinction) from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, with concentrations in aviation/aerospace safety systems and human factors aviation systems. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees and several industry awards. He is an inductee into the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.
Keynote Address: “Lessons from the Ashes: The Critical Role of Safety Leadership”
Achieving a culture of absolute safety is a never-ending pursuit. It is the journey to safety excellence that enables continuous improvement. It requires an enterprise commitment to safety excellence, coupled with robust data collection programs, firmly positions company leadership to keep fingers on the pulse of the operation for a proactive approach to safety management.
Former NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt will offer expert perspective on fundamental qualities of successful safety culture based upon his near 40-year career involvement in aviation safety advocacy, from almost 25 years on an airline flight deck, to managing a Fortune 500 corporate flight department, to decades of aircraft accident investigation and safety management expertise. In addition to his decades of hands-on experience in the aviation trenches, he will also draw on his 15-year experience as an NTSB board member, including most recently as Chairman of the board for the past four years, and his teaching human factors at USC Aviation Safety and Security Program for three years. His remarks will help reinforce messages discussed at the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center Symposium.