Apparently, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t think very highly of the public.
That’s the impression I get after seeing this story in USA Today about the FAA wanting to stop the release of data on bird strikes and aircraft.
From the FAA’s justification, published in the Federal Register:
The complexity of the information warrants care with its interpretation; releasing this information without benefit of proper analysis would not only produce an inaccurate perception of the individual airports and airlines but also inaccurate and inappropriate comparisons between airports/airlines. Requests for data within the FAA National Wildlife Strike Database have typically been for specific data fields, individual airports or detailed portions of the database. Responses from the FAA have addressed each request individually and adequately. Airports voluntarily report bird strike data to understand their wildlife hazards better and to streamline allocating wildlife mitigation funding. Inaccurate portrayals of airports and airlines could have a negative impact on their participation in reporting bird strikes. It is the willingness of airports to participate, to better understand, and to better address their unique set of wildlife hazards that highlights why voluntary reporting works.
[Translation: "This is complex stuff, and the general public is too stupid to figure it out. Also, we're afraid aviation professionals will be less likely to report wildlife strikes if they know the information will be released."]
As the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, James Hall, told the Associated Press:
To have the government actually chill public access to safety information is a step backward. Public awareness is an essential part of any strong safety program.
The FAA proposal comes on the heels of the crash-landing of US Airways Flight 1549, which landed in New York’s Hudson River in January after striking a flock of geese. The plane’s captain, Chesley Sullenberger, was lauded as a hero worldwide for his quick action in the accident, which resulted in no injuries or deaths.
Here in Oklahoma, we used the data, the National Wildlife Strike Database, to report on a deadly small plane crash last year in Oklahoma City. Witnesses reported that the plane hit some birds as it was flying near Lake Overholser.
What’s interesting about the FAA’s proposal is that it appears to fly in the face of President Obama’s declaration of openness in the federal government. Maybe the FAA’s administrators haven’t received the memo yet?
Also, the FAA’s justification seems a little suspect, especially since other countries require this type of information to be collected. Also, the U.S. airline industry appears to be fine with mandatory collection of this information. From a recent safety newsletter:
Sandy Wright of the USDA reported that birdstrikes in the US continue to increase due to bird population increases, bird adaptation to urban living, quieter aircraft engines and other causes. There is currently no FAA metric for ascertaining if risk is being mitigated. It was felt that mandatory reporting of strikes would increase the usefulness of the database. During discussion Mont Smith of the Air Transport Association (ATA) stated that the ATA would no longer oppose mandatory reporting of birdstrikes. Later, in a separate conversation, Smith said that, regarding the implementation of mandatory reporting of birdstrikes, the ATA would be “…taking it to Washington and getting the job done”.
It’s not too late to comment on the FAA proposal, either. You have until April 20 to have your say.
Written by Paul Monies