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CNN: NASA refuses to disclose air safety survey

Stoo

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  • Added on: October 22nd, 2007
(big rant below, would appreciate Capt. Steve's informed opinion)

CNN: NASA refuses to disclose air safety survey

OK, this is the kind of government shit that freaks me out: Cover ups, suppression of information 'for the public good', etc. It is worse than just plain ol' bribes, but they are surely to be mixed in somewhere...

Read and be be wary.

quote:
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.


I think it is increasingly understood that America's air traffic infrastructure is stressed. It needs investment. The FAA needs a heavy, long term, well thought out, strategic injection of cash to modernize it. (Hell, 1980s-izing it would be a great start.)

America, the world aerospace pioneer since day one, risks having a lot of very nice busses (Boeing 787s) with really shitty roads (any flight in the US, especially the North East.) And all the buses keep running into each other. Fracking silly, for such a wealthy country.

On the topic of money, all the free market people will say "if you love it, set it free". Bull shit. We are not talking about a lover, but a nation's flying economy. Is it just me, or is America the only first world nation in a crisis here? How many flights do you read about spending hours and hours and hours and hours on the tarmac? Not that it doesn't happen elsewhere, but surely this is a uniquely first world American crisis.

It's bad for the economy, it's bad for the environment, it's bad for your sanity. Only two things are gonna fix that: regulation and taxes. (I just heard choking sounds thousands of miles away.) Regulation does not always mean pointless bureaucracy! It can mean scheduling efficient access to a valuable resource. (Gates, runway time slots, etc.) Taxes are not all wasted!

America's flight infrastructure is widely reported to be "1950's grade". You should all know that by now. Fracking prehistoric! How much per passenger mile would it cost to pay for something modern? OK, yes, we need to be careful and not wasteful...but this Regan-esque idea that the air traffic industry is out to screw the tax paying public is a joke!
"No. I was talking about the hooker in Reno" -- BostonBill @ the BOOTCOM10 Hostel

Capt Steve

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  • Added on: October 22nd, 2007
I'll start with one fact. In the last thirty-six months there has only been one accident in the U.S. that resulted in deaths onboard -- the Delta Connection crash at Lexington, KY, Aug 6, 2006. US airlines have operated millions of flights in that period without incident. From the article above: "Crashes have dropped 65 percent,with a rate of about 1 fatality in about 4.5 million departures." Forty seven people died in the Lexington crash. How many people have died on America's highways in the past three years? Over one hundred thousand.

Ok, end of my little rant. Smile My point is, air travel is exceedingly safe. I think people freak out more about flying than driving because they give up control. That, coupled with this "zero tolerance" notion about so many things, and the "spectacular" and rareness factor that still surrounds an air crash. But I digress...

I feel that CNN article referenced above makes some valid points, however it takes some of the information out of context, and skews the writing to make it more sensational than it needs to be. It fails to use hard numbers where they would help. I am also strongly opposed to the hiding/destroying of survey data. But this is a political issue and I'm not much into politics. I will say that pilots, like anyone, would probably be more forthright in an anonymous survey than when reporting via more formal channels.

from the article: "the pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show." -- ok, but how many bird strikes is that? If there was ONE per year for the million flights that occur, that'd mean this study showed two. If it was 10,000 in the old study, then it would be 20,000, a big difference. I don't know what the actual numbers are.

I do know bird strikes are somewhat common, but the vast majority cause no damage or safety concern. In 99% of all bird strikes, passengers wouldn't even know it. Since 1975, only five commercial jet accidents have been attributed to a bird strike, and only one of those accidents resulted in a fatality. Personally, in my 1000+ hours flying as a professional pilot in the US for the past two years, I've hit two birds. Neither caused any damage or any safety concern. Of note: both were in my corporate jet at small airports. I've not yet hit a bird in my commercial airline jet. Commercial airports use air canons to make noise and disperse birds, for example.

I will say that "runway incursions" are probably the most dangerous incidents in modern aviation. The most dangerous are when one airplane crosses a runway on which another is taking off or landing. However an incident as benign as a truck crossing without authorization, even though no planes are near the runway, is still an "incursion."

There has been immense improvement in this area in the past few years with the implementation on a number of new systems: Radar tracking of planes on the ground, new lighting to better mark runway intersections, and automatic systems that sense a plane on a runway and signal a plane about to land that the runway isn't clear.

Looking at the FAA's website, it shows about 330 "runway incursions" per year for the last five years. The number has been holding steady while the amount of traffic has increase by at least 30%, if not more. So the "rate" of incursions is actually decreasing.

from the article: "The survey also revealed higher-than-expected numbers of pilots who experienced "in-close approach changes" -- potentially dangerous, last-minute instructions to alter landing plans." --

"Higher than expected" -- one percent higher? 100 percent higher? Which is it? And what is a "close in approach change?" 1 mile out? 5 miles? 30 miles? I honestly don't know. I *do* know though, that if a controller issues an instruction a pilot doesn't like, the pilot can deny the instruction. If all else fails, the pilot simply adds power, climbs away, and circles around for another approach. It costs some time and gas, but is perfectly safe- often the safest choice, and pilots aren't afraid to do so when necessary.

In closing, I'll reiterate that flying is exceedingly safe. Yes, much of the radar technology in the US is old. But there are robust policies, procedures, and standards in place to ensure safety. And most every pilot and controller is incredibly qualified and competent to do their job with safety at the forefront of their minds. It's the standards and the people that really make it so safe, technology just helps out.

The main reason for most the horribly long delays is because of these incredible safety standards that limit how close planes can be to each other, to weather, etc. The FAA limits the number of flights per hour that can depart a certain airport (JFK, for example) Airline management then goes out and schedules more flights than the FAA limit. This guarantees delays, even in perfect weather. Throw in some weather, and you know the result - hours long delays. Yes, new technology will help allow more planes to fly in the same airspace. But until that happens, we have a problem with more people wanting to fly than airspace allows. Same problem we have on congested highways in so many large cities.

I fully understand the desire to reduce the number of air crashes to zero. But what I don't understand is why this same fanaticism isn't applied to highway deaths, medical malpractice, or the myriad other ways we can die in this world.

Stoo

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  • Added on: October 23rd, 2007
Pardon my outrage...I have been as grumpy as world traveler denied a visa the past two days. Razz

Yes, I agree, air safety in the US is pretty darn good. But I think it could be better. And, I think it could be more efficient. And, I think it could be much less stressful.

There are just so many things going wrong with the system now that I hate it. Congestion in the US north east, delays increasing more and more, security queue hell, etc.

I also believe that infrastructure like this needs constant investment. US airliners are in pretty good shape. US airports are spotty. US air traffic control is bad--policies, technology, etc.

This report was suppressed because of the Bush Administration's "run it into the ground" approach to every thing. It was suppressed so that nobody would think "gee, maybe spending some more cash on XXX might be a good idea."

Maybe I am getting all sensitive about it since I'm flying that way soon. Hmmm....

Air travel these days just pisses me off. I remember when I was a kid I looked forward to it. It was fun! The cabin crew on United would give me 'wings' and other fun stuff. At least we have better entertainment systems now...
"No. I was talking about the hooker in Reno" -- BostonBill @ the BOOTCOM10 Hostel

braslvr

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  • Added on: October 23rd, 2007
quote:
It was suppressed so that nobody would think "gee, maybe spending some more cash on XXX might be a good idea."


Good God man! We're at war here don't you know! Help

Jester

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  • Added on: October 23rd, 2007
Is it really NASA who's refusing to disclose the info, or is someone else pulling the strings? Because I can't figure out wtf NASA would be affected if people thought the airlines/airports were running unsafely.

skobb

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  • Added on: October 23rd, 2007

CaesarRomanus

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  • Added on: October 24th, 2007
I don't think it is as simple as "BUSH BAD".

1) There is zero incentive to improve the system. The FAA and regional airports have a monopoly and there is no choice, so there is no real reason to make it better. Politicians like sexy things and infrastructure isn't sexy. The fact is, air travel, despite all the problems, is cheap and safe. Could it be better? Oh yes. But there is no incentive to make it better. You can't take your business elsewhere.

2) While it is tempting to blame this Bush administration for everything, it isn't as if all the air traffic controllers are political appointees. The problems in the air traffic system didn't suddenly happen on January 20, 2001. The problems at the FAA have been around over many Presidential administrations. They spent billions on a new air traffic system that was never implemented. The FAA has a long history of mismanagement.

3) One of the easiest changes which could be made (and probably will I guess) will be to route private and corporate aircraft away from major airports to smaller regional airports. A small plane landing/taking off can take up as many resources as a large plane. It isn't a function of passengers. I know that airlines are pushing for this and I bet something will eventually be done about it. That would instantly solve some congestion issues at major airports. It isn't the final solution to the problem, but its an easy step to take. I know in the Twin Cities, there are several smaller airports nearby (Eden Prairie and Downtown St Paul) where smaller craft can land. There is no reason they need to be landing at MSP International taking up a slot that could go to a larger passenger aircraft.

4) One reason there is so much congestion is that the demand for air travel has outpaced the growth of airports. Airports are very expensive to build. No one wants to live next to one, so there are tons of NIMBY issues. The last major airport built in the US was Denver, which opened in 1995. The last major airport before that was DFW which opened in 1974. That's 33 years with only 2 new major airports in the US. Airports have expanded and added runways, but most have hit a limit to how much more they can expand.
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