NASA releases airline safety data, downplays results

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

NASA today released 16,000 pages of data compiled as part of an $11.3 million, 4-year survey of airline and general aviation pilots regarding safety.

Public access to the surveys, which include more than 25,000 responses from commercial airline pilots and 4,000 general aviation pilots, became a highly politicized topic in the third quarter. NASA officials had denied several requests by reporters to release the survey data, stating the information had the potential to harm public confidence in the aviation system and hence air carriers’ economic viability.

Speaking to reporters today, NASA administrator Michael Griffin again stated that the agency’s earlier denial contained “inappropriate” language, and said the information is now available on NASA’s website for the broader aviation community to consider.

NASA originally launched the project in 1998, long before Griffin’s tenure, to gather information on taking surveys, not for qualitative or quantitative safety research. Griffin says the project was not properly “peer reviewed” from the start.

Griffin deflected questions about why NASA had not drawn any safety conclusions from the national aviation operations monitoring service (NAOMS), which was operated for NASA by the Battelle Memorial Institute.

Taken at face value, the surveys infer that certain incidents, including engine failures, occur much more often than revealed in US FAA databases.

Griffin says the survey data includes inconsistencies that require “pause for thought”, including suggestions that engine failures occur four-times more frequently than reported by the FAA.

“If there are four-times as many failures for high-profile items, that brings into question the reporting mechanism,” he says.

“One can’t retroactively peer review scientific and technical work,” Griffin says, adding the program was not properly peer reviewed “at its inception and was not properly validated at its conclusion.”

Griffin says NASA does not have plans to analyze the data further. Safety programs at the FAA, including the Aviation Safety Action Program, have removed the need for the surveys.

“The FAA has simply moved on from NAOMS,” Griffin says. “This is a red flag for us. We have to make sure other small studies like this get the attention of upper management.”

Asked if he’d seen anything in the data of concern to him as an airline passenger, Griffin replies: “It’s hard for me to see any data here the travelling public would care about or should care about.”