AIN Blog: Torqued: Agencies Must Renew Safety Focus

 - February 1, 2013, 1:05 AM

With the start of a new year comes time for reflection on the old year and my hopes for the new one. In aviation, the past year held many memorable moments; for a former NTSB member like myself who has been on site after many fatal crashes the best part was the continuing accident-free record for U.S. airline flights. That record was, as you all know, made possible by the concerted efforts of many people in the industry: frontline folks in flight crew positions, flight attendants, maintenance workers, dispatchers, ramp workers and gate agents, as well as people in management positions and the executive suite. Safety isn’t the dominion of one group of employees alone. And certainly, as difficult as they can be to work with at times, the dedicated regulatory people in the FAA, NTSB and, yes, even TSA all contributed to the extraordinary safety record.

Sharing Data

Keeping the airline industry accident free–and reducing accidents in corporate and general aviation–will depend on the continued dedicated efforts of all these people. But these efforts alone will not be enough. Most everyone knows that continued accident-free flying depends on spotting problems before they become safety issues that can lead to accidents. And this means mining the data generated by all the programs we have today that collect data–known mostly by acronyms such as ASAP, VRDP, FOQA, SDR and more–and analyzing them to see what the information tells us that could some day, perhaps, prevent an accident.

So, one of the highlights of the last year for me was learning that the FAA had finally gotten its bureaucratic act together and agreed to give the NTSB access to its data to assist in that analysis. With fewer major aviation accidents to contend with, the NTSB is well equipped to bring its expertise to bear on mining this treasure trove of data for whatever clues may reside that bear on safety.  

Of course, it is mind-boggling to imagine that the FAA had any issues at all with sharing this data in the first place. But then again many of us were not aware of just how jealously the FBI and CIA guarded their information–until the tragic events of 9/11 revealed how zealously guarded information fiefdoms can harm our collective well-being. 

So I look forward in the new year and the years to follow to the contributions of the NTSB to the analysis of this data–along with the analysis by the FAA and others–so that safety recommendations can be made and considered well in advance of accidents and incidents.

Expired AOPA Membership

The renewal notices have been coming in regularly over the last few months–first that my AOPA membership was due to expire and now that it has lapsed. Seems AOPA still wants my dues. But they can stop sending me those notices. I’ve decided not to re-up.

Yes, I’m a mechanic and not a pilot or aircraft owner. But for years I thought AOPA did a good job for airmen in general and I gladly paid my membership dues. I know that I wasn’t alone. Other mechanics, aircraft dispatchers, air traffic controllers and others who hold FAA airmen certificates did so as well, thinking that AOPA was keeping an eye out for them, too.

That all changed for me with AOPA’s advocacy for the so-called Pilot’s Bill of Rights, that useless piece of legislation that will make it harder and more expensive for all airmen (not just pilots) to fight the FAA in enforcement hearings. But what really angered me was that AOPA pushed for this legislation knowing full well that it didn’t apply only to pilots. Seems the rest of us airmen didn’t count. In press releases and information to membership, I have found no reference to the fact that this legislation applied to all airmen. By the time I looked at the legislation more closely and saw that it applied to airmen, it had sped its way through Congress and was awaiting the President’s signature. By then it was basically too late for mechanics and other airmen to consider the pros and cons of the law for themselves.

Would it have been that difficult for AOPA to mention somewhere, somehow that the new law would apply to, say, mechanics and not just pilots? Guess so. Since I no longer trust AOPA to look out for all airmen, I’m tearing up my membership. If other mechanics and airmen feel the same, I would encourage them to cancel their memberships or not renew them when they expire. I don’t know about all of you but I sure have better things to do with my money.

Kid’s Seats

Of course, if you’re a faithful reader of my columns then you’ve heard me on the topic of kid’s seats on airplanes. You may even be sick of hearing me and wish I would just give it up as hopeless. But, no, I’m not going to stop talking and writing about this disgraceful issue until something is done. And hopefully before an innocent young life is senselessly lost. 

For those of you new to my column, the issue is the FAA’s refusing to require children under the age of two to be restrained properly on airliners, even though everyone and everything else has to be secured properly in the cabin for take off and landing. Yup, even coffee pots have to be restrained. 

We all know how the FAA came to be called the tombstone agency, its regulations all too often written in blood. But, really, isn’t there anyone at all working on the 10th floor over there who cares enough for these babies to finally do something? And in the absence of regulatory action, couldn’t just one airline step up and do the right thing? Couldn’t just one of them find some way to make it economically viable to require their most vulnerable passengers to fly safely?