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NASA Space Government Politics

What NASA Won't Tell You About Air Safety 411

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the wtb-better-drugs dept.
rabble writes "According to a report out of Washington, NASA wants to avoid telling you about how unsafe you are when you fly. According to the article, when an $8.5M safety study of about 24,000 pilots indicated an alarming number of near collisions and runway incidents, NASA refused to release the results. The article quotes one congressman as saying 'There is a faint odor about it all.' A friend of mine who is a general aviation pilot responded to the article by saying 'It's scary but no surprise to those of us who fly.'"
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What NASA Won't Tell You About Air Safety

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  • Close calls (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:36PM (#21075937) Homepage Journal
    I fly a reasonable amount as a passenger (used to fly small private aircraft as well) on commercial airlines and I've seen quite a few planes that come by shockingly close. I was prepared early enough one day to get a reasonable pic out of a cheap little point and shoot here [utah.edu] of another aircraft in reasonably close proximity, but this is by no means the closest I've seen planes fly to one another. One time flying over Columbia on this flight [utah.edu] we followed *very* close to another large commercial airliner for quite some time. It was hard to get a picture given it was at night with a little point and shoot, but it was close enough for me to see people in windows in-between flashes of lightning. Granted this was in controlled conditions as we were flying almost in formation, but I've also seen planes flash by in close proximity flying in the opposite direction as well. Much closer than the 3-5 mile limit I understood was in place.

    Given the increasing amount of air traffic, I would not be surprised to see incidents (not comforting given upcoming travel), but the shocking thing is that the FAA (and the public) is still dealing with a completely antiquated air traffic control system that like other aspects of our national infrastructure is woefully lacking, particularly around large airports.

    • "Fall Of The Roman Empire".
    • Close != close call (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:47PM (#21076093)
      If everyone is in their right airspace, even when packed closely, that is not a close call. How far was that jet away? A thousand ft or so? With no landmarks it is very hard to judge how far something is away.

      A few years back I was on a flight from Seattle to LAX and with a very chatty pilot. He said something like "In a minute we'll be having a very close look at a Cessna xxx. You won't have much time to see it because it is going at aaa mph and they're going at bbb mph so the closing speed is... Don't worry folks, they are in their lane and we're in ours" and shortly later this plane came whipping past at what seemed like touching distance. Now that was clearly not a close call, but if the pilot had not talked about it we'd probably have thought it was.

      • by dafradu (868234) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:19PM (#21076593)
        Thats true. 1000 feet or 300 meters is the normal distance aircrafts must have between them.

        This video shows two aircrafts 1000 feet apart passing by each other: http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=xpYD0higmxk [youtube.com]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by netsharc (195805)
        Reminds me of the collision between a private jet an a Jumbo in Brazil, that downed the Jumbo. An author that writes for the NYTimes was in the private jet, he wrote a chilling article [nytimes.com] about it, where he mentioned that they didn't even see the Jumbo, and according to calculations, they passed each other at 500 mph.
    • Re:Close calls (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:51PM (#21076149)
      There is really no need for this alarmism.

      I am a general aviation pilot with about 800 hours and nothing you saw is the slightest bit out of the ordinary. The "3-5 miles" is the lateral separation for two aircraft in cruise flight at the same altitude. As long as you're separated vertically by at least 1,000' (which the first aircraft pic clearly was - probably 3000' above you, in fact), there is no lateral separation requirement at all. Many times, I'll fly directly under or over a commercial jet, which is fine since the controller knows we're at different altitudes.

      Your second picture pretty clearly shows you on approach to an airport - SLC. Salt Lake City has parallel runways (see http://www.airnav.com/airport/SLC [airnav.com]) and under certain conditions, to improve airport capacity, simultaneous parallel approaches are allowed. That is, two aircraft simultaneously landing on parallel runways. This is perfectly safe because the aircraft aren't just randomly cruising around; they're being held to extremely tight lateral guidance by the runways' Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) so they don't conflict.

      And, finally, at any time, during any phase of flight -- as long as you're not in a cloud -- a controller can always have the following conversation with a pilot:

      ATC: You have traffic, 11 o'clock, 4 miles, 8,000 feet, moving northbound. Report him in sight.
      Pilot: Traffic in sight.
      ATC: Roger, maintain visual separation with that traffic.

      Now the two airplanes can get closer than the 5 mile limit; the pilot has reported the other airplane is in sight and is doing "see and avoid" -- basically, the same way you avoid hitting other cars when you're driving.

      I hope this has been informative enough for you to, please, stop posting alarmist blog entries saying "Oh my god, look at that plane, it's way too close!" Really, these are all quite normal operations.
    • Re:Close calls (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:56PM (#21076231)
      I believe the limit is usually 3 miles horizontally OR 1,000 feet vertically, presumably because a pressure-based altimeter is less prone to failure than an electronic lateral navigation system.
      • Completely right (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lanoitarus (732808)
        Our AC friend above is 100% spot on-- vertical seperation allows much closer distances, both because altimeters are far more accurate and because vertical position doesnt change as quickly (think about it-- A jet can cover several miles within a pilots reaction time since it is traveling at ~600 mph-- Even if the engines failed completely, it would take longer to lose altitude.)
        • Also, when travelling laterally, isn't there something about not travelling in the first plane's wake?

          Remember hearing something about Airbus being annoyed because the EU equivalent of the FAA required planes travel farther behind the A380 over concerns its wake would be larger. Not sure how much of that is in the 3 mile gap though.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:12PM (#21076495)

      I was under the impression that the FAA had minimum distances defined between any similarly performing aircraft as approximately 3-5 miles, and I'll tell you that some of these aircraft were significantly closer than that.

      The airliner in that picture on your blog is not violating any recommended practices. The 3-5 miles is typical following distance for airliners on the same path, which allows time for potentially dangerous wake turbulence to dissipate. For planes whose paths do not intersect (in the 3-D environment, not merely 2-D), much, much closer passes can safely occur. The plane you show was at least 1000 feet higher than your own, a standard separation for planes awaiting landing clearance, and not on the same flight path.

      Whatever may be in NASA's report (I suspect it's mostly the collisions it refers to are mostly taxiway and tarmac incidents), does not change the fact that the airlines are still the safest way to travel by a large margin. Over the past 20 years, your odds of dying in a commerical airline accident were about 1 in 5 million per flight (multiply by number of flights you take in life for net risk). Your odds of dying on the road are about 1 in 50 (net risk).

  • by hcmtnbiker (925661) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:37PM (#21075941)
    How is this really that bad? Even when the pilots suck, and the traffic controllers are asleep at the helm we still manage to be safer then driving. Seems to me like flying is pretty damn safe, and even better if everyone is paying attention to whats going on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Agreed. The methodology may be flawed, and there might be *potential* problems coming up, but there certainly aren't any immediate problems in aviation safety right now. As I remember it, the commercial aircraft in the US have less than one crash a year, which is a phenomenal record by any measure. While I appreciate that reports like these are done to make sure that no shits making its way to the fan, there's certainly not a problem right now.
      • by WaltBusterkeys (1156557) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:04PM (#21076355)
        If the purpose of the program (increasing air safety) will be maximized by not releasing this report to the public then NASA is right to not release it. Pilots are very sensitive about their jobs, especially when safety is on the line. If pilots are more likely to report incidents (near-misses and dangerous situations) if they know that the data will only be used internally then not releasing it is the right answer.

        I know that pilots were given anonymity, but there are plenty of incidents that could be recognized by the description (it's not hard to figure out which airlines fly a lot of routes -- Southwest and JetBlue, for example, are the only carriers between a lot of secondary airports).

        If the report is published to the greater world then pilots might not be as forthcoming about future incidents and we might lose a good chance to prevent an accident. Without knowing more about the report, why it was developed, who developed it, and what good it does I can't say for sure whether that's the right answer or not, but it's at least a reasonable answer. There's no conspiracy here, sorry.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Puls4r (724907)
      Great. So we've got politicians blaming the National Aeronautics and Science Agency for not telling the whole truth? And we're gonna believe... who?

      I agree with you on your point - air travel is incredibly safe by nearly every measure that matters. Crashes, fatalities, etc.

      You simply can't be safe all the time. You can't. As you sit there right now, look down. How old is your surge surpressor? Is it within it's lifetime as specified by the manufacturer? Is your seat ergonomically correct, and
    • by Marillion (33728)

      I agree. What if the same report were written of auto traffic instead of air traffic? An event like a runway incursion is actually the lowest point where the potential for something unsafe might happen. That said, there is still a long way to go through the degrees of hazard before damage begins to occur. How many times have we seen unsafe conditions when a car or truck briefly crossed a the lane markings on the highway by an inch or two; or speeding; or following too close; or any number similar events

    • by rpillala (583965) on Monday October 22, 2007 @05:30PM (#21077707)
      From Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and some journalist (available at Google Books):

      If you are taking a trip and have the choice of driving or flying, you might wish to consider to consider the per-hour death rate of driving versus flying. It is true that many more people die in the United States each year in motor vehicle accidents (roughly forty thousand) than in airplane crashes (fewer than one thousand). But it is also true that most people spend a lot more time in cars than in airplanes. (More people die even in boating accidents each year than in airplane crashes; as we saw with swimming pools versus guns, water is a lot more dangerous than most people think.) The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying, however, is about equal.

      The book contains a lot of that kind of analysis and is worth reading simply for the insight into incentives (which I found in the first chapter.)

      • by AJWM (19027) on Monday October 22, 2007 @06:25PM (#21078329) Homepage
        The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying, however, is about equal.

        Even assuming this to be true (which, not having looked at the analysis, I reserve judgement on), if I'm planning a trip from A to B that are, say, 20 hours driving time or 2 hours flying time apart, flying is going to be 10 times safer for me than driving.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by evilviper (135110)

        The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying, however, is about equal.

        That's a clever analysis. I've always known the standard statistics we're given are crap. However, that conclusion still is not exactly a rebuke of air travel, as airlines travel nearly 10X faster than cars, that suggests air travel is 10X safer.

        The problem I still see with that, is the fact that "driving" is an extremely nebulous term. The billions of 2 mile trips people take every day to go out to eat or shop REALLY shouldn't be

  • by nweaver (113078) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:37PM (#21075943) Homepage
    The drive to the airport.

    Flying is so much safer than driving to the airport it is not even funny.
    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      Flying is so much safer than driving to the airport it is not even funny.

      1) Say's who? The folks who don't want eveyone to know just how 'safe' air travel is?

      2) And does that mean there's no point in trying make it safer? Why update decades-old computers? Heck, why even train new ait traffic controlers? Everything's cool until flying is more dangerous than driving, right?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:46PM (#21076083)
      Also:

      Airline food (when you can get it)
      In-flight movies (once saw Dirty Dancing Havana Nights on both legs of a 1 stop flight from Vegas)
      Senators in the mens room
    • Absolutely true (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WebCowboy (196209) on Monday October 22, 2007 @05:51PM (#21077969)
      My personal experience in the past year:

      * Taken 16 flights
      * Experienced zero accidents or near incidents involving aircraft
      * Witnessed zero accidents or near incidents involving aircraft

      However:

      * Witnessed three auto accidents en-route to airport
      * Witnessed one auto accident en-route to home from airport
      * Taxi driver taking me home from airport narrowly avoided a severe collision

      Flying doesn't scare me in the slightest, but I sometimes find myself nervous when I have to fly. Can you guess from the above experiences why? Safety at the airport in my home town is scrutinised very closely and by all appearances seems to be top notch. On the other hand, the city seems to have no qualms about planning several simultaneous construction projects along a single route, replete with inadequate road markings, constantly changing signal configurations and restricted lanes...which don't mix well at all with drivers who ignore the reduced speed limits and feel that they absolutely must not leave one or more car-length of space between themselves and the vehicle they are following, lest someone has the gall to cut in front of them.

      The article of discussion here stated that there is one in-flight fatality per MILLIONS of departures--I bet more people die golfing than flying and certainly driving is several orders of magnitude more risky. Roads are WAY more crowded than runways and airspace, aircraft are in MUCH better condition and far more reliable than automobiles and pilots are FAR more skilled and competent than even some of the better drivers on the road.

      It seems to me that even if NASA's interviews suggest incidents are under-reported by half that overall air safety is quite good and certainly not worth the alarmist tones by those involved. If there is ANYTHING about air travel we should be concerned about, beyond the hazardous road trip to the airport (if it isn't the construction-infested road to the airport at home it is the dangerously confusing interchanges and signage at other large airports), it is the screwed up state of security at airports. Recent surveys have shown that security gate personnel have been extremely good at confiscating grandma's knitting needles, threatening toiletries and risky bottles of Evian, but when it comes to REAL security they have been almost criminally neglectful.

      For example, in LAX testers placed very obvious-looking bomb components into checked luggage (batteries with wires and circuitry attached, realistic-appearing explosives, etc) and 3 out of 4 times it cleared security. In the recent past air cargo security has been circumvented up to 90 percent of the time. At the airport I take off from regularly a mentally disturbed person scaled the perimiter fence, wandered onto the runways and tried to flag down a commercial jumbo jet preparing for takeoff. In Montreal a reporter crawled under a similar fence, got into an unlocked maintenance truck and started it up. Then he put on a smock and waled right into the CARA kitchen preparing food for the next departing flight posing as an inspector. Nobody questioned his presence, asked for ID or anything.

      Trust me, if you were to be injured or killed during a flight--extremely unlikely as it is, you probably stand a greater chance of it being because some nutjob jihadist checked a bomb, or infiltrated airport security and poisoned the in-flight food, than because of mechanical failure or runway incursions or mid-air collisions or birds meeting their maker inside a jet engine.
  • by Irvu (248207) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:40PM (#21075981)
    Is it really NASA as a whole. Keep in mind that until a year or so ago a single Bush-appointed kid was responsible for censoring all of NASA's press releases about basic science. The kid in question had no college degree, no background in science, and his sole qualification appeared to be having been head of the Texas young republicans at his school. This despite opposition from most of NASA.

    Not to sound like some NASA apologist or something but in my experience with large institutions many of the things done "by NASA" or some other group are often the work of one or a few key individuals and many times may run counter to the very goals of the institution and most people involved in it. It wouldn't surprise me if the political appointee that replaced the kid is doing this.
  • by Pojut (1027544) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:41PM (#21076011) Homepage

    According to the article, when an $8.5M safety study of about 24,000 pilots indicated an alarming number of near collisions and runway incidents, NASA refused to release the results.


    "When two planes almost collide, they call it a near miss....IT'S A NEAR HIT! A collision is a near miss...::BOOM::...look, they nearly missed."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by moogied (1175879)
      No my silly friend.. A near miss is a term of proximity.. A near hit is a practice in redundancy. A near hit would be two things hitting eachother, while near eachother(see how its redundant?) A near miss would be two things *nearly* hitting eachother.
    • by jayveekay (735967)
      I think that the term "near miss" is accurate. The noun used is "miss", which is correct as the planes did miss each other. The adjective "near" indicates that they did not miss each other by a great distance. Using the noun "hit" would be an inaccurate description of the incident, as a hit did not occur. To call the incident a "near miss" is not saying "the planes nearly missed" which is using an adverb and verb rather than adjective and noun.
  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:43PM (#21076033) Homepage
    But I'll let you know when I am.
  • meh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DirkGently (32794) <dirk@noSPaM.lemongecko.org> on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:43PM (#21076035) Homepage
    Air travel is like hot dogs. Ignorance is bliss.

    Seriously though, I try to remind myself that the pilots are just as interested in getting to the destination in one piece as I am.
  • Watch the Sky (Score:2, Informative)

    by lamarguy91 (1101967)
    I live within 10 miles of a major airport, and within 3 miles of a smaller "business" airport. Three nights ago I was outside on my balcony watching the sky and saw two planes coming from opposite directions converging towards one another. At first I was thinking, "Hmmm, those look like they're at relatively close altitude.". This quickly turned into "Are they really supposed to be flying like that?".

    Very quickly thereafter, the planes are close enough that I realize one of them is a jumbo jet and the ot
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kazrath (822492)
      So what your saying is... They missed each other by 1/2 a mile or more directly over multiple airports that you are 3 miles from? Sounds pretty obvious to me.
    • So, you have a small plane navigating at an airport 3 miles from you. Then you have a big plane taking off 10 miles away.

      So we've got Seven Miles of distance between those airports. Chances are that spot you thought they both went through had 7 miles of gap or more on the Z axis which you couldn't see from your vantage.

      From what I could see on the ground, the planes passed through what appeared to be the same spot in the sky within about 4 seconds of one another. I was utterly astounded.

      So am I. Look up
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by scharkalvin (72228)
      "Captain, his thinking is two dimensional." (Spock to Kirk from Start Trek II)
    • With no points of reference in the sky it is very hard to tell where things are. This is particularly true when you are trying to place a big plane (747) and a commuter plane. My drive to town takes me on a road that is just below the appraoch for an international airport. The 747s fill the sky and you'd swear they are going to clip the top of the trees, but in reality they're many hundred feet up.

      I hunch the guys on the ground with radar etc have a far better perspective of what is really going on than any

  • My question is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sdkramer (411640)
    why is NASA doing this? Isn't this the domain of the FAA and NTSB?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alotau (714890)
      The second 'A' in NASA is Aeronautics. There is a lot of original research in all facets of aeronautics going on at NASA including air traffic control/management. To oversimplify: the FAA is generally more concerned with near term Air Traffic Control and NASA is generally more interested in the long term (2020+).
      • by IANAAC (692242)

        There is a lot of original research in all facets of aeronautics going on at NASA including air traffic control/management.

        And guess who actually controls the skies over the US? It's not NASA.

  • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:47PM (#21076089)
    "'There is a faint odor about it all.' "

    Isn't that like Pigpen remarking on someone's bathing habits?
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:50PM (#21076137) Homepage Journal

    "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. NASA also cited pilot confidentiality as a reason, although no airlines were identified in the survey, nor were the identities of pilots, all of whom were promised anonymity.

    Amazing. Once upon a time, the only valid reason for withholding information was if it would affect the nation's security. Now, "commercial welfare" is just as valid as "national security".

    How many other documents can now be hidden from public view, given the low bar of "could materially affect the public confidence"? Apparently, if you're not "confident", you're with the terrorists!
    • by Solandri (704621)

      Amazing. Once upon a time, the only valid reason for withholding information was if it would affect the nation's security. Now, "commercial welfare" is just as valid as "national security".

      That's an interesting ethical dilemma. In this case, the public tends to overreact to news of air safety. So do you do the intellectually honest thing and go public with the data, knowing the public will overreact, causing more of them to die because they chose to drive instead of fly? Or do you censor the data in the

      • That's an interesting ethical dilemma. In this case, the public tends to overreact to news of air safety. So do you do the intellectually honest thing and go public with the data, knowing the public will overreact, causing more of them to die because they chose to drive instead of fly? Or do you censor the data in the interest of economics and public safety?

        I don't see a dilemma, actually. In an open culture such as ours used to be, you release the data, period. Once you start censoring data in the intere

        • I dunno, times like this I think back to Men In Black.

          "People are smart, they can handle it."
          "A person is smart. People are dumb, stupid, panicky animals."

          Couple that with the sensationalist media, who would rather focus on 'Why your loved ones will die on planes taking off TODAY, tonight at 7PM!' and I can see their logic behind it. (Not saying I agree, mind you, just saying I understand.)

          Have someone who knows what to do with the data deal with it first (this part I think they're skipping, instead choos
  • For The Non-Pilots (Score:5, Informative)

    by ryanisflyboy (202507) * on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:50PM (#21076141) Homepage Journal
    NASA keeps a voluntary database of incidents/accidents and safety concerns from pilots. The idea is that it can be totally anonymous. They want pilots to feel free to report safety concerns without fear of being fired or discriminated against by their current airline. The database is fully on-line and you can search it. Look at the facts: The American airline industry completes thousands of flights every day without a single issue. That is friggen AMAZING! The ATC has a very hard job, and they do it well. A big part of why things are so safe is the over-zealous approach pilots (most pilots) take to safety. There are several different ways to report problems. If you are at a major airport and break the rules (in a small plane for example) you can usually expect an FAA inspector to meet you at the tarmac to pull your ticket on the spot. If you don't take safety seriously word gets around fast. Your fellow pilots don't appreciate it.

    http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    This program has been going for years and years. It helps make the skies above you safer. If there is an increase it is likely due to one of the major trends affecting aviation today. Fewer airports, more airplanes with smaller passenger sizes, more flights, younger pilots, etc. I highly doubt NASA is trying to deep-six some scary fact, they probably just didn't want to pay to deal with the fallout from a service that costs them dollars. They do it for free in the interest of safety. They should be applauded for their years of service to the aviation industry.

    Keep in mind that the ASRS is in ADDITION to the NTSB and FAA programs for saftey (which also has searchable online-database).
  • legal? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by baudbarf (451398) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:51PM (#21076159) Homepage
    I'm often mistaken, so this may be no exception, but isn't NASA's work in the public domain since it is a federal agency? How can they refuse to release to the taxpayers the results of taxpayer funding? At least the military has the excuse of "national security"... what is NASA's explanation for this failure to deliver on a service they billed us for?
    • Re:legal? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by norton_I (64015) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:26PM (#21076711)
      This has zero relevance to copyright law. They have agreed to collect data on the condition that they only release statistics. Which is what they did. It is legally and ethically fine. Anonymous surveys are an incredibly useful tool, especially when done by people that understand how to do them well, and what the limitations are.
  • NASA: "We need to take a minute or two away from flying vehicles filled with millions of tons of explosive liquids to lecture you about air safety. Cue the film, Biggles..."
  • by JackMeyhoff (1070484) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:56PM (#21076233)
    ... http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=kapton+wiring+problems [google.com] Kapton wiring by DuPont is a silent time bomb in most COMMERCIAL aircraft. This wiring is BANNED in MILITARY and NASA equipment but YOU fly surrounded by it not knowing the dangers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Kapton is near perfect for wiring; it's a very high temperature material that will bubble and smoke but not flash over. Having designed and built speakers for over a decade, and used literally miles of Kapton to make formers, and seeing what happens when you completely smoke a driver, I can tell you Kapton is not the concern.

      Usually when a Kapton-former voice coil in a speaker dies, the wire will literally fuse itself, melt the varnish, melt the glues and even the wire itself - copper - melt down before

  • Is it a "near miss" when a collision is narrowly avoided? or is it a "near miss" when two planes pass closer than they should to each other, but were really in no real danger of colliding? For example, on the freeway, cars sometimes swerve towards another car, then realize what they are doing, and move back into the center of their lane. Is that a "near accident," or just a normal occurrence? I'm serious about this. I'd really like to know what counts as a "near miss."
  • by pnagel (107544) on Monday October 22, 2007 @03:57PM (#21076247)
    Isn't the safety of an activity determined by the number of actual accidents, and not by the number of near-accidents?

    For example, I've been driving about 14 years without ever causing an accident (or at least, none that I was involved in to know of :-). However, I often find myself in the situation of almost making an accident.

    Fo example, you start to do a lane change, and suddenly, before you actually enter the other lane, you notice another car there, and abort the lane change. The point of driving experience and skill is it also helps you to cope with the near-accidents that your driving skills failed to prevent.

    Surely something similar is relevant to flying too?
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      "Isn't the safety of an activity determined by the number of actual accidents, and not by the number of near-accidents?"
      Not in civil aviation or any other very serious activities. When an air craft gets with in a certain distance then it is a accident. It isn't supposed to happen so a mistake was made and needs to be fixed.
      If you must think of it like driving then would you say that a driver that constantly runs red lights but doesn't actually hit anyone is a "safe" driver? Think of near misses as moving v
  • by nate nice (672391) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:03PM (#21076337) Journal
    Everywhere I've worked has been populated by slackers, incompetents and other people not doing their job fully. Why is surprising then that as it turns out, the airline industry is the same? Is it any surprise that corners are cut, that communication isn't always good and that faulty assumptions are made? It's this where everywhere. IF you're surprised by this, have you ever left your house and worked?
  • by quite_sick (1145851) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:03PM (#21076349) Homepage
    ...inexplicable rise in the number of home-made Nigerian helicopters and Sputniks crowding the airspace.
  • by flaming error (1041742) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:04PM (#21076367) Journal
    > pilots said airlines were unaware how frequently safety incidents
      > occurred that could lead to serious problems or even crashes,

      > The survey's purpose was to develop a new way of tracking
      > safety trends and problems the airline industry could address.

      > revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence
      > in airlines and affect airline profits.

    So NASA, worried the industry could be overlooking some bugs, initiated a code review with the intent of creating a bug-tracking system. Four years and $8.5 million later, the project presumably completed, they didn't release - because it would expose bugs?

    I wouldn't have thought it was NASA's role to cover-up airline industry problems. I'd expect airline industry non-sequitors like this to have been performed by the FAA and NTSB. NASA should restrict itself to losing their own design plans, and occasionally mucking up english-metric conversions.

  • Look -- there's a time and place for modeling things, and a time and place to not. In particular, you should make a model of how risky something is only if you don't already have lots of data (because the model is essentially providing you with the data that you otherwise don't have).

    But in America we have lots of great data on exactly how often planes crash. For one thing, airplane crashes are new. For another thing, detailed and consistent statistics are kept. And this very plentiful, real-world data
  • by no_pets (881013) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:11PM (#21076463)
    Growing up we had a saying referring to how close something came to almost happening, but didn't ...

    "Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
  • The truth will set you free, but it's gonna piss you off first.

    I wish I could find this sort of thing shocking, unbelievable, impossible, but it's sadly expected from this administration. Remember them lying about the safety of the air down at Ground Zero after the attack?

    I'd seen disaster special after disaster special talking about how vulnerable NOLA was before Katrina hit. It hits and holy shit, nobody'd ever thunk it! I've seen report after report about how antiquidated our ATC system is and how it nee
  • Runway incursions (Score:2, Informative)

    by CPNABEND (742114)
    There was an article in Air & Space magazine in the last month or so about runway incursions (being in the wrong taxiway, or worse on the wrong active runway, or crossing when you shouldn't. It was a pretty scary article, and it discussed the things they are trying to do to make sure the pilots turn when they should, and do not when they shouldn't. Bottom line, is the FAA has spent a lot of money and time, but hasn't got a good solution yet...
  • Yeah, I know the first "A" stands for Aeronautics, but hey, isn't this an NTSB issue? (National Transportation Safety Board?)

    Aren't they the people that typically investigate aviation accidents and make reports?

    I don't think NADA should have anything to do with this.

  • Hyperbole aside, number of passenger miles http://www.bts.gov/publications/white_house_economic_statistics_briefing_room/october_2005/html/air_revenue_passenger_miles.html [bts.gov] has nearly doubled since 1992, yet number of fatalities per year has gone down RADICALLY (http://www.ntsb.gov/aviation/Paxfatal.htm - wow was '85 a bad year).

    I dunno, seems like it's getting safer to me.
  • crisis in the making (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MM_LONEWOLF (994599)
    add this to the fact that air controllers still use equipment that employs vaccuum tubes, which have an opportunity to break down thousands of time per second, we've got a possible crisis on our hands. I'd to think what would happen if all air traffic control was lost at JFK or any other international airport.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      add this to the fact that air controllers still use equipment that employs vaccuum tubes

      If you mean that they use CRT monitors then you are probably right. Most ATC operators are moving to 2k by 2k LCD monitors but the changeover will take time.

      If you mean that they use high power valve radio transmittors then it would only be true if that is the best technology available.

      If you mean that they use valve computers then you are wrong. I work in the industry, though not supplying the FAA. I am sure they have a reliance on some old systems, but no more so than many organisations like the banks

  • Just imagine how fast the 32-bit ID pointer would roll over on a database for close calls between cars.... Somehow I suspect that even with the number of close calls in the air and on the runway, the planes are safer per capita than cars.
  • Riding in a motor vehicle on city streets is a good deal more dangerous. For many Americans it's substantially the most dangerous thing they're willing to do EVER, and yet they do it many times a day.

    Of course, there's *some* risk in _anything_ you do. Playing sports and working out, for instance, are likely to get you injured, but sitting at home all the time will buy you poor health twenty or forty years down the line. There's no such thing as a completely safe activity.
  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Monday October 22, 2007 @04:31PM (#21076771)
    Even this study, which the AP was quick to hit the panic button about, states that your odds of dying on any given airline flight is one in 4.5 million. Your odds of dying in any sort of air travel accident in your liftetime (on average...obviously, odds vary according to how often you fly) are about one in 20,000. You odds of dying in a car are about one in a hundred. Your odds of dying in an airliner hijacked by terrorists are about 1 in 55 million. So, obviously, the government is spending billions to combat terrorism, millions on air safety, and hardly anything on automotive safety.

    Does anyone in government ever bother to READ the reports they spend so much time and money writing and classifying?
  • Here's another interesting approach to air safety:

    Helical Flight Logic [benweiss.com]
  • Silly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @05:04AM (#21082551) Homepage
    This is completely silly.

    We know pretty accurately how dangerous flying is, on account of having a fairly good record of how many million people fly how many thousand miles a year, and knowing how many end up dead or injuried as a result.

    If *almost* crashes where significantly up, you'd expect *actual* crashes to be similarily up. There's more than enough planes in the air that the law of average work just fine.

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