APRIL 15, 2009
A costly and lengthy government investigation that was supposed to reveal crucial information on aviation safety will never be made public because it was plagued with serious shortcomings and resistance from federal regulators.
The failed project cost taxpayers $11 million yet the government has nothing to show for it, according to a 100-page report recently published by the investigative arm of Congress. From 2001 to 2004 thousands of pilots were surveyed on their experiences with bird strikes and other safety events in an effort to identify issues of concern.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was in charge of conducting the surveys and publishing the findings. Instead the space agency stopped interviewing pilots in 2004 and, under pressure from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), decided to keep secret the results it had gathered.
NASA interviewed at least 25,000 pilots in its scientific survey to track air safety problems and accident precursors. The FAA, which is in charge of aviation safety, immediately challenged the validity of the surveys when preliminary results indicated higher numbers of bird strikes and other safety risks.
Plenty of cross agency bickering and millions of dollars later, the project is officially dead with no safety statistics available to the public. The FAA has a history of negligence and secrecy when it comes to its aviation safety duties. Just last month the agency came under fire for reneging on its promise to disclose records involving flying birds that damage commercial planes.
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.
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 probe 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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