Senate confirms transportation safety board chairman, member

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2015 4:23 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A lawyer with a history in aviation and transportation safety was confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate Thursday to head the National Transportation Safety Board.

Christopher Hart's nomination was approved 97 to 0. The Senate also approved by a voice vote the nomination of transportation safety advocate Tho "Bella" Dinh-Zarr, U.S. director of a foundation that promotes global road safety, to fill a vacancy on the safety board.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this extraordinary organization whose mission is so important and commendable," Hart said in a statement after the vote.

The safety board investigates accidents across all modes of transportation, determines the causes and makes safety recommendations. The board's greatest area of expertise is in aviation, and it is frequently called upon to assist air crash investigations around the world.

In recent weeks, the board has responded to a maritime accident in Texas, trains that have struck vehicles at grade crossings in New York and California, an oil train that derailed and caught fire in West Virginia and an airliner that skidded off a runway in New York.

Hart joined the board as vice chairman in 2009 and moved to the top spot in April after then-Chairman Deborah Hersman resigned. He has held high-level posts in the Federal Aviation Administration, including deputy director for air traffic safety oversight and assistant administrator for system safety.

Hart served as deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before moving to the FAA in 1995. He is a licensed pilot with commercial ratings. His great uncle, James Herman Banning, became the first African-American to receive a government-issued pilot license in 1926.

Dinh-Zarr, who has a doctorate in public health and injury prevention, has worked for the FIA Foundation since 2006. In addition to road safety, the foundation also promotes fuel efficiency, motor sport safety, better air quality and "livable" cities. Prior to joining FIA, Dinh-Zarr was national traffic safety policy director at AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association) and a scientist at the traffic safety administration.

The board now has four members with a fifth seat vacant. The seat was vacated when board member Mark Rosekind was confirmed earlier this year as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.