Executive Director, FAA Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention
By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Associate Editor
Kimberly Pyle did not grow up wanting to work in aviation. As the child of Peace Corps volunteers, Kimberly wanted to find a career where she could be of service to others. In fact, it was when she was living in a third-world country, witnessing how a U.S. government program was able to improve lives, that Kimberly considered government work herself. Working as a staffer in the U.S. Senate, and then in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kimberly believed that the right policies might ultimately make a difference in the lives of many people.
“I wanted to work in a field with a positive benefit on society,” she said. “While working in Congress was tremendously insightful, I still felt like there was more I should be doing.”
Thanks to an opening in the air traffic systems development branch that popped up in a Washington Post classified ad search, Kimberly turned her eyes to the FAA. Her international childhood had given her plenty of opportunities to experience aviation around the world, and her family had a number of pilots who were avid aviation fans. Kimberly decided to take a chance on a mission that had little to do with politics.
“I got the job, and the first time I visited an FAA facility and saw all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making flying safe, I knew I made the right choice,” she noted. “This was a place where I could contribute my talents and join a larger team working to make aviation safer.”
Since joining the FAA, Kimberly continued to learn, holding many roles throughout the agency. She worked in air traffic systems development, communications, congressional relations, safety culture, runway safety, global safety program management, air traffic safety, and technical training, prior to her current role as the executive director for the Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention. Here she manages and coordinates the accident investigation program, data modernization, predictive analytics, safety management system programs, and the NTSB and FAA safety recommendations. She also serves as the chair of the FAA’s Safety Culture Executive Steering Committee, which supports safety culture transformation in the agency.
Kimberly sees having the right culture, data, and workforce focused on safety management and communication as the next challenge for the agency.
“The national airspace system of tomorrow is not going to be served by the same approaches we took in the past. For one, technologies have changed dramatically,” she explains. “Are we using everything we have learned in the last 100-plus years of flight, plus all the advanced capabilities we have available today to continue to push safety forward?”
New methods and actions are needed to prevent accidents. One such method is strengthening the predictive analytic and risk forecasting capacities to be capable of recognizing risk in advance, and then sharing that information with stakeholders.
“I’d like to see us leverage the incredible amount of data that we have collected to supplement how we manage safety,” she notes. “Knowledge is power, and shared knowledge is a force multiplier. The more knowledge we can get into the minds of all of our stakeholders — and especially the pilot community — the safer the system will be as we deal with emerging risks in the future.”
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.