For those readers who may not follow everything aviation all the time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was taken to task a few months ago for suppressing huge amounts of safety data related to the aviation industry.
The information was gathered during thousands of individual interviews the agency conducted with pilots and air traffic controllers around the country about just how safe, or unsafe, the nation’s airways are today.
David McNew / Getty Images
NASA spokesman said the agency withheld the information because they feared scaring the flying public if the raw data got out.
NASA finally relented to media pressure and released the figures on December 31, 2007, hoping it would be lost in the slowest news of the year pile. The manner in which the agency organized the numbers made it almost impossible to decipher, so for all practical purposes, we still know very little about the safety information the agency spent millions of tax dollars gathering. We do know, however, that something was afoot, enough to concern NASA about keeping the public as far away from the information as possible.
Here They Go Again
Now similar scare-tactic charges are being leveled at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). They were beaten up in a Los Angeles Times article last Thursday in which the union was accused of also attempting to scare the public when they declared a staffing emergency last week at a number of busy airports around the nation. The union says too few air traffic controllers are on duty in relation to the amount of air traffic in the skies.
The Times asked Hank Krakowski, FAA air traffic organization chief operating officer for his perspective. “I have zero hesitation putting myself or my family on any airplane at any airport in this country, and the flying public should feel the same.” Imagine if Krakowski had said anything different.
Some might think that sounding of the air traffic sirens last week was motivated only by the fact that the union is unhappy that FAA forced a labor agreement down their throats a year or so ago and that the union has been essentially powerless to do much about the situation except hope others outside the FAA aid them in their quest.
Here comes the however.
The number of close calls between airplanes both on the ground and in the air has been climbing of late at an astronomical rate. The vast majority of controllers are also working mandatory six-day work weeks because of a shortage of personnel. These veteran controllers also function as first-line On-The-Job trainers for new controllers. That means that each time a vet retires, we also lose their ability to train a replacement. Today, seasoned controllers are reacting to these labor issues by retiring since many came into the FAA after president Reagan fired their predecessors in 1981. The FAA would have you believe that everything is under control. But it’s not.
I’ve been flying for 40 years and the thought of flying into and out of O’Hare, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York bothers the heck out of me.
Am I scared to fly though? Pretty close. But pilots hate to ever admit they’re afraid so I might not be the best example.
Perhaps the union’s claims of an emergency are wrong. Perhaps they are overestimating the severity of the problem. Maybe they’re even making it up. But FAA is part of the same government that brought you NASA, the TSA and the CIA, groups whom almost no one trusts anymore.
So what does this mean for air travel if FAA is right? Absolutely nothing actually.
But if FAA is wrong, or is perhaps covering up the information about the system’s safety the way NASA did and we are actually immersed in an air traffic controller staffing emergency, you need to be asking yourself the same question every time you fly … “do you feel lucky today?”
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