Robert T. Francis, 1938-2021

Robert Francis former NTSB head
Former NTSB Vice Chair Robert Francis (center), with President Bill Clinton at press conference regarding the crash of TWA Flight 800 on July 26, 1996.
Credit: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

The Hon. Robert T. Francis II, former NTSB vice chairman and prominent international aviation safety advocate, passed away April 17. 

He was 83.

Appointed NTSB Vice Chair by President Bill Clinton in 1995, Francis played key roles in the board-led investigations of several major aviation accidents, including ValuJet Flight 592 in May 1996, triggered by an onboard fire, and the inflight explosion of TWA Flight 800 in July 1996. His collaboration with then-Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Assistant Director Jim Kallstrom helped diffuse tension between their organizations during the TWA 800 probe as the two agencies worked to determine whether the disaster was a criminal act or, as they ultimately concluded, an accident.

Prior to joining the NTSB, Francis held several senior positions with the FAA, including senior representative in Western Europe and North Africa based in Paris. In his role, he worked extensively with the FAA’s international counterparts on global aviation safety and security issues. Francis also represented the FAA on the Flight Safety Foundation’s Icarus human-factors-focused safety committee.

Francis completed his term at the NTSB in 1999 and continued to help advance global aviation safety through a variety of consulting and advisory roles. A Royal Aeronautical Society fellow, Francis’s work earned him numerous honors, including the 2000 L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation.

"I knew Bob as a friend and colleague, and served with him on the Flight Safety Foundation Icarus Committee," said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "Although our terms on the board did not overlap, I do know Bob served on the NTSB with great passion and integrity. On behalf of all of us at the NTSB, I offer our sincere condolences on his passing."

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.