Orders Survey's Disturbing Results Purged
When it comes to the safety of air
travel... what you don't know, may frighten the hell out of you.
And that's why NASA is keeping mum on the results of its recent,
unprecedented national survey of pilots' top safety concerns.
The Associated Press reports the survey found near-collisions
and runway incursions occur much more frequently than the
government once thought... as much as two times as often.
NASA tasked a contractor to conduct the phone survey of roughly
24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four
years, until the start of 2005. The agency then shut down the
project... and refused to disclose the results publicly. Last week,
NASA took the additional step to order the contractor to purge the
A person familiar with the survey, speaking anonymously, told
the AP of the findings... after 14 months of unsuccessful efforts
to obtain the results through a US Freedom of Information Act
Why was NASA so reticent in releasing the findings? Associate
NASA Administrator Thomas S. Luedtke says the agency didn't want
the public's confidence in airlines shaken... which could affect
"Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and
safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in,
and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general
aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey,"
Luedtke wrote in a final denial letter to the AP.
The agency also cited pilot confidentiality... although no
identities were named in the survey, of either individual pilots,
In addition to higher-than-reported incidence of near-collisions
-- both on the ground and in the air -- and bird strikes, the
survey also reportedly discovered a high amount of "in-close
approach changes"... in which pilots received urgent last-minute
instructions to alter their approach to landing.
NASA maintains nothing in the survey
warranted alerting the FAA. The project was axed from the NASA
budget in 2005, to make room for the manned lunar and Mars
North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller expressed incredulity at
NASA's reluctance to make the survey's findings known.
"If the airlines aren't safe I want to know about it," said
Miller, chairman of the House Science and Technology investigations
and oversight subcommittee. "I would rather not feel a false sense
of security because they don't tell us.
"There is a faint odor about it all," he added.
Officials at NASA's Ames Research Center say they wish to
publish their own report on the survey by the end of the year... so
the truth is, apparently, still out there.