Friday, January 11, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- January 11

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jan 11, 1985: Ralph Nader's Aviation Consumer Action Project made public a study claiming that FAA had underreported near midair collisions (NMACs) for 1983 and 1984 (see Oct 18, 1984). FAA acknowledged that discrepancies existed and stated that procedural changes would ensure more accurate NMAC statistics in the future. On Apr 19, 1985, FAA released data showing a rise in NMACs for the first quarter of 1985. The agency stated that the increase reflected improved statistical procedures and renewed emphasis on pilot reporting of the incidents.

In June, Georgetown University Dean Ronald L. Smith began an audit of the new NMAC reporting system. In findings announced by FAA on Dec 3, Dean Smith judged the system to be working well and found no evidence of earlier deliberate suppression of NMAC reports. Meanwhile, media attention to the NMAC issue heightened due to two such incidents in the national capital area on Jun 9 and Sep 24, 1985.

In Oct 1985, NTSB Chairman James Burnett told Congress that the Board was very concerned about a trend toward increased NMACs. On Apr 14, 1986, FAA stated that reported NMACs for 1985 had totaled 777 (a figure later revised to 758), as compared to 589 for 1984. Commenting that the 1985 statistics were based on improved methods, FAA Administrator Engen pointed to the agency's efforts to reduce NMACs, including the establishment of Airport Radar Service Areas (see Dec 22, 1983) and the "Back to Basics" program (see Oct 10, 1985). Engen also stated that special working groups were studying the problem of potential collisions on the ground, termed "runway incursions."

FAA later issued the following statistics: 840 NMAC reports in 1986; 1058 in 1987; 710 in 1988; 550 in 1989; 454 in 1990; 348 in 1991; 311 in 1992; and 293 in 1993. “

(edited for clarity and emphasis)

I told you I’ve been down this road once or twice before. (Thanks Jerry Jeff)

Now, what was Ms. Brown (no relation) -- the FAA spokesperson -- saying in response to NATCA raising the alarm ?

” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said fatal air accidents have declined to record low levels and said FAA measurements show reductions in serious errors.”

That is just casual enough where you almost miss the weasel words isn’t it ? Writers don’t miss them. When you’re trying to cram a lot of detailed information into a little bit of space -- yet remain accurate -- you learn a lot about weasel words. ”Fatal air accidents” ? What the heck is that ? Accidents in the air ? Or does it include this kind ? I know I’m supposed to interpret it as “aviation accidents” but that isn’t what it says is it ? It doesn’t even say “air accidents.” It says fatal air accidents. Does that mean the non-fatal ones have declined too ? I’m guessing the questionable “FAA measurements show” is obvious by now.

It’s almost enough to make you miss the fact that NATCA is talking about the present and future -- we’re short of controllers now and it will get worse in the future -- and Ms. Brown is trying to get you to look at the past.

What a coincidence. So am I.

” In Oct 1985, NTSB Chairman James Burnett told Congress that the Board was very concerned about a trend toward increased NMACs.

August 31, 1986 --- Cerritos, California mid air collision.

Don Brown
January 11, 2008

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