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From Mary Schiavo


Mary Schiavo February 10, 2010 14:33
Mary Schiavoformer inspector general, DOT

Many times I have stated, and I very fervently believe, that one of the most important forces for aviation safety is the First Amendment. Without probing and impartial programs like Frontline, most of what goes into aviation safety would never be discernable by the flying public. Key information about aviation safety is purposely kept from the flying public by the airlines with the active assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration. Many key elements of safety are not available when you file a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) with the federal government. For example, an airline pilot's experience, qualifications, training, discipline and failed FAA examinations are not disclosed. The FAA will not tell the flying public about violations and investigations (the exception is that the FAA will make public fines over $50,000, but not the airlines' records concerning the violations). Who is performing the airlines' maintenance, and where? They won't tell you. Even which airlines have the worst accident and fatality rates are not revealed to the flying public. Thus, being a commercial airline passenger is not an endeavor in which we can be informed and discerning consumers, selecting safety with our economic choices. We have to rely on the airlines and the FAA. But, so much is subcontracted out that often our faith is misplaced, particularly now that more than half of the US flights are flown by subcontractor carriers hired by the majors. Regionals have to carry out the flights at the lowest cost possible, even if that means the first time your pilot has actually felt a stick shaker and pusher is when he or she has a planeload full of souls relying on the training and experience in the cockpit.
Miles O'Brien and his team on this piece are at this juncture in history among our most important forces for safety. The lobbyists and special interests in Washington have compromised the independence of Congress and the FAA. The airlines complain their economics drive the present deplorable conditions in the airline industry and to do something different than their competitors would be economic suicide. Spending more on safety than competitors would hurt shareholder value, or so they claim. When an accident happens, air carriers' insurance policies pay the loss and even pay the airlines' cost of defense to fight the families of the victims. No publicly traded carrier has ever stated in SEC filings that its bottom line was impacted by a crash. Thus, it is unlikely airlines are going to change the situation. We need someone to lay bare the facts and show a concerned nation the gravity of the situation and what we need to to about it. It is sad that leadership does not come from Washington, but I am thankful it has come from Frontline. You did a great job and this program will help insure that the lessons learned from the tragic loss in Buffalo and the other recent regional carrier accidents will help to improve safety for the traveling public. Thanks again Miles and team.

posted february 9, 2010

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