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Employee rides down a baggage conveyor belt  (Source: AP)
NASA kept research data private to avoid a panic

If you're afraid of flying, this recent article compiled by the Associated Press probably won't relieve any of your pre-flight stress.

After conducting an $8.5 million safety project that revealed safety problems, NASA withheld the results to avoid upsetting air passengers.  The following safety issues take place more than the public is aware - bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway interference.  NASA interviewed more than 24,000 commercial and private pilots over a four-year span that started in 2000 - after finishing the interviews and stopping all research, NASA has spent the past year silent about data gathered.

NASA last week requested the main contractor delete all relevant information from its computers.  According to NASA, no collected data was severe enough to warrant contacting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  

Publishing the data could have damaged the "public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits," said Thomas Luedtke, senior NASA official.

"If the airlines aren't safe I want to know about it," said Rep. Brad Miller, R-N.C., chairman of the House Science and Technology investigations and oversight subcommittee.  "I would rather not feel a false sense of security because they don't tell us," he added.

The House Science and Technology committee will now reportedly launch an investigation, also warning NASA and its contractor to not delete any documents.

Due to the AP article published in the morning, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the U.S. space agency will work to try and find a way some of the information can be published for everyone.  The information "should be widely available and subject to review and scrutiny," he said in an official NASA statement.

NASA Ames Research Center officials want to publish a public report before 2008.

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By TomZ on 10/23/2007 9:36:13 AM , Rating: 5
NASA is acting irresponsibly by not publishing this report. There is no justification for withholding information that could be used to improve the safety of the aviation industry. Lives could be saved by releasing the report and taking action based on the identified shortcomings.

RE: Irresponsible
By FITCamaro on 10/23/07, Rating: 0
RE: Irresponsible
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 10:02:24 AM , Rating: 4
I think in general the public should know about the real risks involved. They should not be hidden. People should be able to make informed decisions if they so choose. If flying is actually slightly riskier than we perceive, then people might choose to fly just a little less, and that is the correct outcome if you ask me.

RE: Irresponsible
By Oregonian2 on 10/23/2007 1:29:01 PM , Rating: 3
Unfortunately, the public would know MORE than what is "real" in terms of risk. Something that can cause a technical risk-probability problem 0.001% of the time (even if it NEVER caused an actual accident) will be blown up to "death for sure if I fly" by the tabloids and the rest of the press (which are tabloid wanna-be's). That's the fear I suspect. People won't read reports and analyze it, they'll see article headlines (which are hyped up.. "risk in....") and that'll be all that is read.

RE: Irresponsible
By Alexstarfire on 10/23/2007 4:38:09 PM , Rating: 2
Gotta say that when I read the title I was quite scared. My GF is on a 14 hour plane ride as I type this. Then I read what the survey and such is supposed to entail and I think it's stuff that doesn't make too much difference. I mean, bird strikes, you can't do much to prevent those other than making the cockpit glass bird strike resistant, which has been done already. There is always a risk of a bird hitting the engine, but if they fly high enough the risk is minimal since many birds can't fly 5+ miles above the ground.

Near collisions and runway interference aren't that big a deal either, but since it doesn't say what the causes are it's hard to say if it can be improved. Animals can cause havoc at airports. I remember seeing on TV one time that a few airports had a person with a trained hawk/eagle/falcon/whatever, that they'd send out to scare off all the birds before a plane landed. Near collisions, well that depends on the definition of near. I near collisions are like even 1/4 mile apart then it's not really that near.

RE: Irresponsible
By Oregonian2 on 10/23/2007 6:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
As far a bird hits go, there's a semi-famous story about that that ends in a story about how planes/engines were tested. Had to do with shooting high speed frozen chickens (or was it turkeys?) to make sure they'd survive (not the birds!). Forgot why they were frozen, but that was part of the story whose details I've forgotten. That was quite some time ago.

RE: Irresponsible
By FITCamaro on 10/23/2007 10:56:59 PM , Rating: 2
I would work for free to do that just once.

RE: Irresponsible
By maverick85wd on 10/23/2007 10:07:21 AM , Rating: 2
I would fly either way, and to be honest knowing how many bird-strikes or near-misses there are wouldn't have me worried while flying. Think about it... there are a lot of flights on a daily basis; somewhere, one of them is probably going to hit a bird or have some taxi-way interference. I'm all for improving these processes, but knowing that there are problems sometimes shouldn't be a surprise or worrisome to anyone

RE: Irresponsible
By TMV192 on 10/23/2007 12:47:01 PM , Rating: 2
well it's not the first time this so called public agency withheld data
this includes many of it's space ventures

RE: Irresponsible
By Trisagion on 10/23/2007 10:03:30 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think it would make any difference whether they publish it or not, as far as airline profits are concerned. People who like to fly and have to fly (because it's the fastest way to get anywhere) will continue to do so and the people who are paranoid enough to avoid flying won't.

Nothing will change, except bring better safety rules into place.

RE: Irresponsible
By Oregonian2 on 10/23/2007 1:30:06 PM , Rating: 2
What if a bird doesn't care about the new rules about not running into planes?

RE: Irresponsible
By SiliconAddict on 10/23/2007 10:13:57 AM , Rating: 2
Keep in mind that NASA isn't doing this. This smell of some internal political bullshit. Some exec is applying the Dilbert principle.

RE: Irresponsible
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 1:27:41 PM , Rating: 2
Keep in mind that NASA isn't doing this.

If I understand correctly, it is NASA's decision to not release the report to the public. I also read that they haven't provided the report to the FAA either.

RE: Irresponsible
By Oregonian2 on 10/23/2007 1:32:21 PM , Rating: 2
Is the report complete and ready to be published (whether if it has been or not)?

RE: Irresponsible
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 1:41:06 PM , Rating: 2
It was reported that it was completed about a year ago. But the reports in the media are a little sketchy.

RE: Irresponsible
By crystal clear on 10/23/2007 11:06:55 AM , Rating: 2
And YES-

After conducting an $8.5 million safety project that revealed safety problems

What was the motive to undertake such a study ? when there is no of lack air transport authorities/agencies/regulatory bodies etc in the USA, who can do the same.

RE: Irresponsible
By johnsonx on 10/23/2007 12:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
One thing to keep in mind though is that what 'they' consider a safety issue isn't quite what the public thinks of as a safety issue. When they say 'runway incursion', most people imagine planes nearly bumping each other, or one plane taking off as another is landing on the same runway with one doing some exotic manuever to avoid a crash. The reality is most 'runway incursions' are simply not so dramatic. The same for 'near mid-air collisions': those are mostly technical violations of a fairly large airspace around each aircraft, but say that phrase to the public at large and again they imagine two aircraft doing barrel rolls to avoid each other. So any study that counts every technical violation really should not be made public.

Also, how is a baggage handler riding down a baggage conveyor a public safety issue? Sure, he's not supposed to do that, but a public safety issue? Please.

RE: Irresponsible
By johnsonx on 10/23/2007 12:14:50 PM , Rating: 2
Let me amend that: it could be made public if the media could be counted on to present it objectively and in the proper context.

When you stop laughing, let me know what you think.

RE: Irresponsible
By mdogs444 on 10/23/07, Rating: 0
RE: Irresponsible
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 1:29:12 PM , Rating: 2
If NASA was smart, they would release the report right now, while the media and the readers/viewers are engrossed in the California Fires story. (What a terrible tragedy, by the way.)

RE: Irresponsible
By johnsonx on 10/24/2007 2:30:43 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, especially given that the fire near me (don't get your hopes up people, I'm in no danger!) was started by arson. I suppose if your house burns down it's equally gone whether the fire was from arson or more natural causes, but it still really gets you knowing someone did it on purpose.

RE: Irresponsible
By Samus on 10/23/2007 5:19:32 PM , Rating: 2
They acted in favor of the airline industry. For people concerned about safety (those who actually would read the report) might opt out of traveling, hurting the entire industry.

RE: Irresponsible
By lompocus on 10/24/2007 12:24:27 AM , Rating: 1
You now know they're really bad, enough to cause panic. That is as good as a statistic ever could be.

Now go put on your tinfoil hat and stop using airlines. Let's drive 20000 miles down to the tip of Chile!

Big deal....
By Amiga500 on 10/23/2007 10:03:20 AM , Rating: 2
Who cares about near misses...

how many near misses have YOU had on the roads driving?

If your anything like me its a few.

The raw numbers speak for themselves, commercial flying is the safest mode of transport in the world.

RE: Big deal....
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 10:17:12 AM , Rating: 3
Who cares about near misses... how many near misses have YOU had on the roads driving?

I care, because unlike the environment that cars are in, the locations of planes are supposed to be carefully managed by air traffic control. Near misses indicate failures in the system that need to be improved. Near misses are not supposed to happen by design.

RE: Big deal....
By InsaneGain on 10/23/2007 12:25:11 PM , Rating: 2
The raw numbers speak for themselves, commercial flying is the safest mode of transport in the world.

Exactly. The numbers and statistics tell the story. If there was actually more risk in flying than the general public is aware of, then given the huge numbers of people flying, statistics would inexorably dictate that there would actually be a lot more accidents. There is simply no possible way that the industry is actually more dangerous and has just been very lucky for decades. I think what the story is saying is that inevitably there is some risks involved but the general public can't rationally put the risk data into proper perspective, and therefore the data shouldn't be published. Statistically, driving a car is far more dangerous than flying.

RE: Big deal....
By timmiser on 10/23/2007 2:15:58 PM , Rating: 2
What is the definition of a "near-miss"?

RE: Big deal....
By Bluestealth on 10/23/2007 10:19:42 AM , Rating: 2
Just wait till the Associated Press gets their hands on a "leaked" copy of this report. They will work on making it as scary as possible. Expect a line like "We are giving you the hard information the government didn't want you to know." Sadly that line will be the most honest part of the sensationalist story.
Two people will cancel their plane tickets and take a train, or worse their car! After about a month no one will even remember it.
Its funny how the press use scare tactics to try and remain relevant. For ex. "This thing is KILLING your children, special report Tuesday."

I honestly don't understand why they won't release this report myself, they are just fueling speculation. Even with this "dire" information it is still the safest way to travel.

RE: Big deal....
By mdogs444 on 10/23/07, Rating: 0
RE: Big deal....
By FITCamaro on 10/23/2007 11:02:20 PM , Rating: 2
You'll be glad to know Fox News covered the medal of honor story.

RE: Big deal....
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 11:15:58 PM , Rating: 2
CNN covered it pretty well also.

Me personally
By FITCamaro on 10/23/07, Rating: 0
RE: Me personally
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 9:51:09 AM , Rating: 1
I agree. I fly about 2 days per week for my job, and I still am not quite fond of it. Its the not being in control factor that I cannot stand.

However, I would still rather like to think that flying is "the safest way to travel", especially when I have no other alternatives for work travel.

By releasing this information, there definately could be a public panic, and thats not a good thing. I think it's better for the government & researchers to come up with better regulations to make things safer.

Just my $0.02.

RE: Me personally
By Lord 666 on 10/23/2007 10:18:56 AM , Rating: 2
What not-for-profit has you up in the air 2 days a week?

RE: Me personally
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 10:29:57 AM , Rating: 2
We are a not-for-profit system but also parter with other hospitals in the region - philadelphia, pittsburgh, new york, etc. Also, being a director, i travel alot to conferences (management & health it based).

Its not a constant 2 days per week, but it has its busy and slow seasons. Its technically a 30-50% travel job.

I also drive to closer not profit systems as opposed to flying.

RE: Me personally
By Lord 666 on 10/23/2007 10:36:06 AM , Rating: 2
So you work for a RHIO or "mini-RHIO"?

RE: Me personally
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 10:41:37 AM , Rating: 2
I guess you could call it a RHIO, but not necessarily. There are many forms of a non profit hospital system - but all are individually funded. We just make it a point to work together to increase ways for care, technology, ideas, security, etc.

For example, Childrens Hospital Systems in ohio are located in Cincinatti, Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland, Akron, etc. But they are all individual, funded seperately, and operate seperately. All are based on donations as well - just like Columbus is now "Nationwide Childrens" because of a very large donation, and there is on in Texas by Dell.

RE: Me personally
By 91TTZ on 10/23/2007 8:21:37 PM , Rating: 2
If you'd rather not know, I have an easy solution for you- don't read the report.

If they release the report, it doesn't mean that you have to read it. Just like when a movie comes out that I don't want to see- I simply don't see it. I don't expect someone to make up my mind for me and ban it for everyone just because I don't want to see it. That would be some really bad logic there.

RE: Me personally
By FITCamaro on 10/23/2007 11:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
Even if I don't read it others will. And then you can be damn sure some of that group will all get together and sue the airlines. And then the cost of travel will go up for all of us because of a report on something the airlines couldn't really control.

We paid for it.
By Aeonic on 10/23/2007 11:45:48 AM , Rating: 2
It's pretty annoying to not have the results of a study I helped fund released. You would think NASA of all institutions, would have learned by now the consequenses of burying one's head in the sand.

I also don't see where it is NASA's place to even consider the profits of the airlines. But if you want to go there, I would argue that perhaps not releasing the report could be more costly in the long-term, if it means bad systems will remain in place and an otherwise avoidable crash will happen. Yeah. That would be bad for profits, no? Especially if it stems from a problem uncovered in this report.

RE: We paid for it.
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 11:50:02 AM , Rating: 2
I would argue that perhaps not releasing the report could be more costly in the long-term, if it means bad systems will remain in place and an otherwise avoidable crash will happen. Yeah. That would be bad for profits, no? Especially if it stems from a problem uncovered in this report.

You are making a guess that NASA is completely discarded the results and not going to use them for any good. All we know is the results are not being made public. It does not mean that NASA (or the govt) cannot (or will not) work with airlines authorities to build better solutions.

RE: We paid for it.
By Aeonic on 10/23/2007 12:37:09 PM , Rating: 2
Well, they're not going to the FAA with the report. They've apparently sat on it for a year. Maybe I'm a cynic, but I don't see them having a fireside chat with the CEO of USAir over it.

RE: We paid for it.
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 1:38:51 PM , Rating: 2
They may develop internally things to change for safety and present them to the FAA. Just because they dont make the physical report available doesnt mean there aren't alternative solutions.

Airline profits are most important
By 16nm on 10/23/2007 10:17:13 AM , Rating: 2
Publishing the data could have damaged the "public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits," said Thomas Luedtke, senior NASA official.

God forbid safety should stand in the way of airline profits. LOL. That's a good one.

RE: Airline profits are most important
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 10:45:02 AM , Rating: 1
I, for one, am not concerned with the airlines PROFITS, but I would be concerned with all the people that could lose their jobs if the airlines started losing money. Just look at how many pilots have been pushed out due to profits not being where the airlines deem them to be.

RE: Airline profits are most important
By 91TTZ on 10/23/2007 8:24:34 PM , Rating: 2
The public wouldn't change their spending habits, so the industry wouldn't be affected.

Remember when gas prices jumped up a few years ago and everyone was mad at the oil companies? Just how did they decide to "stick it to the man"? They continued buying gas guzzling SUVs and driving a lot. Their habits weren't about to change, they were just venting.

By FITCamaro on 10/23/2007 11:06:46 PM , Rating: 2
Yes but massive lawsuits that could result and the billions they might be forced to pay, that could cause jobs to be lost.

Wait, what am I saying? This is America. People never sue a company for frivolous reasons or things outside their control.

By sj420 on 10/23/2007 11:09:48 AM , Rating: 2
I didn't really know what to say about this, but considering the situation I would declare this more substantial information that the government isn't in the "business" to help us, but simply help themselves.

It doesn't matter really, if anyone "thought" anything was safe than you are living in a blind security. The person next door could kill you with a toothpick tomorrow, you never know, so who is to say that the window you are sitting next to won't pop out and suck you into the engine? No that won't happen, but a bird could hit the engine. They don't want you to know how many times that has happened (common, after all, we are flying in the sky the birds domain- why are the "animals rights activists" not up in arms about planes hitting birds, but about wind turbine power generators and birds). Usually, if it just hits one or two engines the jet is ok (as long as it is one engine on both sides) even though typically the engine catches on fire, and shreds to pieces in the inside, in most cases. They generally have four for a reason, in-case two fail. However, who knows what the pilots themselves do. With all those chicks and alcohol on board I wouldn't be worried about no plane I would consider myself the mile high master or something. They "don't get paid enough" to worry. It is funny what someone declares "negotiable" just for monetary reward.

In lame-mans wording, This just provides more reasons to NOT ride a plane, or a car, or anything. Whenever I think about a plane all I think about is that one accident where there was a plane on the tarmac taxing, and one got cleared to take off. Needless to say the plane that got cleared sheered the top half of the other jet. Welp, thats using your eyes, with fog and everything I understand, but still - people don't put enough thought into anything they do these days. You know, that uneventful morning can always end up in something if you make the right/and or wrong moves. Bunker up people, the years are closing in. Something is going to pound some justice into this naive, young, immature and arrogant government/branches of ours. Hopefully blatant public dis-regard like NASA's here (we all know they have ex-nazi's, or we should know) will be taken care of through civil justice. Yell obscenities as long as they can stand it.

RE: Hah
By Ringold on 10/23/2007 4:07:20 PM , Rating: 2
Usually, if it just hits one or two engines the jet is ok (as long as it is one engine on both sides) even though typically the engine catches on fire, and shreds to pieces in the inside, in most cases.

They've got four because, for that particular design, that was most efficient. Others simply have two. Some had three. Some six.

As far as a couple birds in the engine.. My understanding is that the big high bypass monsters on these boeings can eat the garden variety of smaller birds by the dozens without such catastrophic failure. The ICAO states that only 11% of the bird strikes causes damage.

I've personally been the instrument of choice for several birds suicide (some hear the plane approach and have a natural response of diving, which some times means diving in to your path). The Cessna's I were in suffered no damage at all; of course, a totally different type of plane, but still. Now, if any plane ran at maximum structural cruise through a massive flock of canadian geese, there could be problems but otherwise all that can be done is the omnipresent NOTAM warning of "birds on and about the vicinity" of the airport. Unless you want to eliminate all birds...

Needless to say the plane that got cleared sheered the top half of the other jet.

People thinking of this is probably why NASA didn't dump it on the media. The far more likely "near miss" or "incursion" is somewhat more benign.. I could lay out many examples, but I doubt they'd do any good with your stance already being pretty clear. They're all serious matters, of course, but a student pilot crossing an inactive runway after carefully looking in all directions when he was told 10 minutes earlier in the middle of a long set of instructions to hold short before crossing isn't a cosmic catastrophe -- but that doesn't get reflected in statistics.

They "don't get paid enough" to worry.

I hope your whole post was just satire and I missed the punch line. Commercial pilots are some of the most professional group of people I've met. They take their job and it's responsibilty seriously. Just drive to a local municipal airports flight school and see for yourself.

There are real problems with the airspace system, yes. However.. I've not seen any of them raised here thus far (in these posts, at least -- DT has discussed it previously). Perhaps NASA simply doesn't want to detract from the real problems with scare-mongering media headlines based on statistics. An incursion is an incursion.

RE: Hah
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 4:27:06 PM , Rating: 2
I don't disagree with the points you make, and maybe the report only presents uninteresting statistics about benign problems, but I don't see how NASA can justify not releasing it. Right now people can mainly just speculate about the contents, and quite possibly the speculation is worse than what the report actually says.

Let's just wait it out
By tspinning on 10/23/2007 10:55:48 AM , Rating: 2
Well, if NASA published the info on antiquated air traffic control practices, over-tired pilots, and improper use of airspace, they would then be looked upon to do something about this, which they would then claim, we have no jurisdiction, no money, and no ability to enforce anything, we study the stuff however!

Why is our society so afraid to spend money on things that are current issues, why do we not look at the black smoke in the sky and not think fire until it is at our doorstep? Fundamentally there are bigger issues in the way we (our government) goes about things.

Anyone remember the huge brown outs/black outs that swept the east a few years ago? I'm fairly sure at least one electrical engineer had thought, maybe these power lines laid in 1932 aren't really able to work with today's power loads...

Why do we allow (elect) so many old boys to sit around and pat each other on the backs, smoking $100 cigars, wearing suits that cost more then the average used car, chortling about the great things they are doing...

Please, ignorance may be bliss, but just because knowledge doesn't always result in happiness, doesn't mean we shouldn't know!

RE: Let's just wait it out
By sj420 on 10/23/2007 12:13:31 PM , Rating: 2
After all its all about profits, in other words, money stuffed in the fat guy at the CEO desk's pocket. Thats all that matters.

The whole thing with "Consumer discomfort - Profit ups" means they are cutting on spending on their side, cutting on service, and being fine with late flights. They win because they stuff more money into their pocket.

Greed gets the best of them though, and the big ones fall the hardest.

I can't believe what I'm reading.
By 91TTZ on 10/23/2007 8:39:51 PM , Rating: 2
How can some people think that withholding information from the public out of fear is an acceptable practice? What they're saying is essentially that they're afraid that the public will be able to make a more informed decision that may affect profits, and therefore they shouldn't know.

I see a couple people on here using the horribly flawed logic that states, "I don't want to know, and therefore nobody should be allowed to know".

There is nothing in this report that should be kept secret. There is only reality stated in this report. How can they justify withholding this information when it directly relates to the safety of the public?

RE: I can't believe what I'm reading.
By TomZ on 10/23/2007 11:17:26 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, I agree; the logic behind that argument is demented.

By Marlin1975 on 10/23/2007 9:34:50 AM , Rating: 2
Why not release it and say this is what we found... but at the end just add even with all that you are safer flying then driving. Which is still true.

Take a guess what people have close calls while driving, even walking sometimes. Are we to believe that it never happens in air travel. I rather hear about these close calls but also know that with training and oversight that deaths don;t happen.

OH NOES!!! Air lines might have to answer if they are worse then others, save me jebus.

By zombiexl on 10/23/2007 10:15:38 AM , Rating: 2
like telling them you wont tell them something so they dont panic.

Nasa is right
By ikkeman on 10/24/2007 12:40:23 PM , Rating: 2
Nasa is right to withhold this information. The general public will not be able to correctly read this data, and the sensation press will delibarately misinterpret the report.

All accidents and incidents in aviation are published every year. It shows a consistently decreasing absolute number of both accidents (resulting in loss of aircraft and or life), incidents (resulting in damage to aircraft/injuries) against a backdrop of ever increasing traffic.

Aviation is safe and getting safer!

about the terminology: Near misses mean aircraft coming within 2 minutes (or something similar/larger) of colliding, runway incursions mean two flights are cleared to a single taxiway or an runway is occupied while an other aircraft in on final approach - with plenty of time to pull up (minutes, not seconds!)

By JonnyDough on 10/23/2007 7:28:43 PM , Rating: 1
scare me a lot more.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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