Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Attack of the Vapors

NASA withholding data from pilot survey on air safety

By Rita Beamish, Associated Press | October 23, 2007

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - An unprecedented national survey of pilots by the United States government has found that safety problems such as near collisions and runway interference occur more frequently than previously recognized. But the government is withholding the information because it fears the data would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits.

Rita, your blinkered, philistine, pig-ignorance is showing.

Just to start, the words "unprecedented" and "data" don't mean what you think they do.

In order for something to be unprecedented, that something must never have been known or done before. Had you undertaken an an investigation so cursory as to flirt with non-existence, scarcely anymore than that required to find your nostril with your index finger, you would have quickly learned about NASA’s 30-year-old and highly regarded Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS)—a voluntary, non-punitive program which collects data from pilots and other aviation personnel. The ASRS has several great advantages the methodology-free telephone survey that has you wishing to take a powder lacks:

  • Incentive Except in the case of criminal activity, submitting an ASRS practically ensures the FAA will not undertake certificate action, even if the submitter was at fault.
  • Immediacy In order to obtain immunity from enforcement action, the report must be submitted within 24 hours of the occurrence.
  • Being actual, you know, data. The ASRS submission process ensures incidents will not be double, triple, or quadruple counted.

  • Had you dug just a little deeper (not with your index finger), you might have contacted some airlines to see what reporting systems they have in place. Instead of nearly fainting, you would have discovered that pilots report virtually everything* even the tiniest bit out of the ordinary, and that all of this information is available to the FAA.

    Which might, just might, have led you to reconsider whether you used the word "found" in anything like its traditional meaning, thereby, perhaps, avoiding the dizzying lightheadedness of hyperventilation.


    When it comes to filling out your 1040 this coming April, when you list your occupation as journalist, make sure to use scare quotes.

    * For example, last week I had a tire blow on initial brake application during landing roll-out, due to an anti-skid sensor failure.

    One of 10 main landing gear tires.

    We filed a report.

    I get safety reports that are technically specific to my aircraft, and all operational reports. On average, I read roughly 20 per week.


    Blogger Harry Eagar said...

    You confirm my suspicions.

    I blame the blogosphere. And Rita Beamish. And Congress.

    The 'secret' report has been known about but aviation reporters in the foul MSM seemed not to care, until a blogspheric drumbeat got the attention of a congressman who held inquiries.

    So the report was released a few weeks back. My paper, and many another, ran it as front-page news.

    I had suspected -- all along -- that since (in the version we used, I forget which wire service) one of the first paragraphs said there hadn't been a collision in five years, that the whole thing was imaginary -- like the calculations of cost/benefit the Corps of Engineers makes to build a dam.

    But I wasn't consulted about whether to run the story.

    All the versions I've seen (three I think) were remarkably content-free.

    One interested in news reporting might ask, didn't editors learn anything from the 'fires in Pintos' fiasco?, and the answer would be, no.

    November 19, 2007 8:30 AM  

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