Monday, October 22, 2007

Air traffic study too terrifying to be released

If you're a long-time regular reader of news parody site The Onion, this may sound familiar to you:
PALO ALTO, CA–Researchers at Stanford University are refusing to release a comprehensive three-year interdisciplinary study on the grounds that the results are "too terrifying to reveal to the public at large," sources close to the project announced Monday.
It seems The Onion was ahead of its time. A survey of airline pilots on air traffic safety commissioned by NASA is too frightening to be released, according to NASA officials.
Anxious to avoid upsetting air travelers, NASA is withholding results from an unprecedented national survey of pilots that found safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than the government previously recognized.

NASA gathered the information under an $8.5 million safety project, through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years. Since ending the interviews at the beginning of 2005 and shutting down the project completely more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge the results publicly.

Just last week, NASA ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all related data from its computers.

The Associated Press learned about the NASA results from one person familiar with the survey who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss them.

A senior NASA official, associate administrator Thomas S. Luedtke, said revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits. Luedtke acknowledged that the survey results "present a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of the U.S. commercial aviation industry."
Their silence speaks volumes.


darkpixel said...

I think the real issue comes down to one of science. If you're the FAA and you investigate a runway incursion at DFW you call it once incident. If you're NASA talking to pilots month/years after the fact, do you call it one incident? 24 pilots and or co-pilots reporting that a truck crossed the runway just as a plane was taking off "sometime in the spring on 1998" just can't be controlled appropriately.

In many aspects I think the FAA sucks. But they are pretty good at investigating stuff, and the FAA has a bureaucratic DISINCENTIVE to undercount/under report incidents. With firm numbers they can go to Congress and the budget gnomes and justify more $$...

Eric said...

True...I can see how a single incident can be counted multiple times by talking to the different pilots involved and not doing enough work to correlate the separate accounts.

I was talking to a Delta pilot a couple years back who said the big ATC problem right now is all the little 50-seat regional jets. They take as much space in the ATC system as a 747.