Monday, October 22, 2007

NASA Deep Sixes Important Aviation Safety Information

NASA spent $8,500,000 of our money to study aviation safety the right way: interview pilots in strict confidence so they could disclose what they see as critical safety failures in our aviation transportation system. Now NASA, instead of releasing the information which shows that the FAA is totally inept at gathering safety information, has ordered the contractor to destroy it because it would be embarrassing to government and the airlines.

This stonewalling of public information obtained in the ordinary course of its duties is unforgivable and a disgrace. The data shows that the FAA is totally in the dark about aviation safety and could benefit from this NASA data because it would demonstrate how and why the FAA doesn't have a clue what's going on in the National Airspace System.

The reason no one talks to the FAA is obvious. The FAA will prosecute anyone from whom it receives information that relates to safety of flight even if the purpose of the disclosure is to improve safety. Moreover the FAA totally discounts information from the field about safety defects in aircraft so mechanics and pilots are loathe to report troubling problems as no action is ever taken. In addition, the FAA rats out the whistleblowers and gives them no protection, hanging them out to dry, to lose their jobs and to go it alone. Therefore, there is no incentive whatsoever to help the FAA.

NASA, on the other hand, gives a "get out of jail free card" with the report of sensitive safety information so there is an incentive to provide timely and helpful information that can be useful in preventing accidents. What is troubling about this revelation, however, is that a serious effort was made by NASA due to a perceived aviation safety need to get up close and personal so it could acquire the most useful data and now it will “deep six” it because it would embarrass another agency of government – the FAA – that agency being solely responsible for the safety of flight. In short, instead of using this information as a tool to improve the FAA, the most ineffective agency of government, NASA sees fit to destroy the information instead. Hide critical information that might be embarrassing to the government? Never!

Arthur Alan Wolk
October 2007