NASA suppressing aeronautic data: Part II

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Oct 26, 2007
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In my earlier post about a NASA official's refusal to release important data on airline safety, there was some confusion in the comments over what's going on.

NASA commissioned a study to investigate airline safety incidents. Evidently, the results made it clear that accidents and near-accidents are far more common -- twice as common, in some cases -- as other studies have shown. When pressed on this, a NASA official, Associate Administrator of Institutions and Management Thomas S. Luedtke, refused to release the data, saying it would undermine public confidence in the airline industry.

It really is this simple. He said this very clearly.

The situation is interesting: the study results do indeed indicate things are worse than generally known, but it is also true that really, nothing has changed. The industry is no more or less safe today than it was yesterday before the results were known. So the public perception of this really is the only concern; there is no reason for them to suddenly worry more about airline safety (which would lead to fewer tickets sold for sure).

But you know what? Tough. The study results are bad news, to be certain, but there is not much that can be done about that. Even if the industry takes the results to heart and starts to implement solutions, it's important that the public knows this. I'd rather know what's going on, even if it's bad, then find out a year from now that the industry was told about this without the public being let in on it.

However you slice it, the results should be public. And now that it's news, it's doubly important for NASA to release the results, to mitigate the black eye they are getting on this issue.

Moving on, in the comments of the previous post, it was said that this study was the Aviation System Reporting Survey. That is not correct. The NASA study in question was different. Called National Aviation System Operational Monitoring Service, it was done through a contractor, and uses existing databases and other information (ASRS is just one of the sources involved) to develop tools to understand and alleviate possible sources of unsafe aviation situations. Also, while ASRS is searchable and public, the new study's results are not, and it's these results that Luedtke wants buried.

I stand by my statement about Mr. Griffin as well: it's great that he wants to fix this situation, but his spin on what Luedtke said is ridiculous.

Also, I made a crack about Luedtke being a political appointee (referring not-so-subtly to the Bush Administration's heavy-handed politicizing of so many agencies like NASA). A commenter pointed out that Luedtke was appointed in 1999, so it was Clinton who put him there. I updated the entry to reflect that, and I mention it here to be up front and honest.

And to be absolutely clear: the original post is still accurate to the best of my knowledge. The bottom line is that Luedtke was 100% in the wrong about not releasing the data, and his reasoning for doing so is garbage. Griffin's response was fine until he tried to spin this, which was also garbage. Congress has taken notice, and hearings will be held.

CNN.com has a pretty good article about all this, too.