Friday, April 25, 2008

Runway Headline

Runway incursions have reached the top. Front page of The New York Times -- first story. (Please note that it’s written by the reporter I’ve mentioned several times -- Matthew Wald.)

For Airlines, Runways Are the Danger Zone

”But what really worries aviation specialists? Runway collisions. “

It’s true. I was having a conversation with an airline-pilot friend just yesterday. We agreed that the next major accident would most likely be caused by a runway incursion. I went on to say, “But (I’m a safety guy, I’ve always got a “but”) it could be anything -- anywhere.

That’s the problem (if you can call it that) with a system as safe as ours -- you just don’t really know where the next “big one” will be. All you can do is look at the data -- searching for trends. Which is the reason yesterday’s story in The Washington Post was important.

”Federal Aviation Administration managers covered up mistakes by air traffic controllers at a Texas facility, making it more difficult for authorities to detect safety hazards in some of the nation's busiest airspace, FAA officials disclosed yesterday. “

GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out. We must have good data in order to come up with good policy decisions. That might remind you of the lack of commitment the FAA has shown in collecting good data. Remember I provided these quotes from Air Safety Week ?

””The White House announcement rings hollow, especially given FAA declarations about the need for "data-driven" safety programs. ASRS is a primary source of precisely such incident data. “

” As an appalling illustration of the impact of budget cuts, of some 35,000 ASRS incident reports received annually, only about 30 percent wind up in the data base. The staff cannot handle them all, so must decide which of the reports are the most worthy of keeping. “

Another subtext in this post is the fact that aviation safety is in the headlines of major publications. It has been my (limited) experience -- since I retired and I am able to track the news more closely -- that reporters and editors have a developed sense for what will become news. There is something out there that is about to break open and they are trying to get ahead of it. The sharks smell blood in the water and they are circling -- searching for its source.

Don Brown
April 25, 2008

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