MARCH 27, 2009
The federal agency in charge of aviation safety has reneged on its promise to disclose records involving flying birds that damage commercial planes and instead will keep the information from the public.
The topic sparked worldwide interest earlier this year when a pilot was forced to land a plane with 155 passengers in the Hudson River after engines were disabled by a flock of geese. The plane had just taken off from a New York airport when the pilot radioed air traffic controllers that he had experienced a bird strike and declared an emergency.
Media outlets around the country launched several investigations on how frequently this occurs and one national news organization requested records, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The agency initially agreed to disclose the information but this week revoked the offer, claiming it would keep airport and air carriers from reporting damage caused by birds.
Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, a separate news agency reported last week that there were about 8,000 incidents of aircraft/bird collisions in 2008 but that only a fraction are even reported. The worsening problem has forced some commercial airports to install special bird radars.
Surely, the public has the right to know the true threat of flying whether it be presented by birds or other safety issues. The FAA has traditionally been very secretive and quite deceitful with Americans. Last year two FAA inspectors testified before a House Transportation Committee that they were threatened with dismissal after reporting a major U.S. airline’s serious safety violations to agency supervisors who had cozy relationships with the carriers.
A few years ago a congressional investigation blasted the FAA’s claims of drastically improved air safety, exposing record amounts of runway incursions at major airports around the nation. Investigators found that runway safety gains achieved earlier this decade have been eroded by overworked controllers and lack of leadership at the FAA.
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