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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!

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