Don’t worry, be ignorant

The public should be wary when the government doesn’t want the public’s confidence dented by inconvenient information, a case in point having been discovered by the Associated Press.

Says the AP: “Anxious to avoid upsetting air travelers, NASA is withholding results from an unprecedented national survey of pilots that found safety problems like near-collisions and runway interference occur more frequently than the government previously recognized.”

The study was conducted by NASA over nearly four years at a cost to taxpayers of $8.5 million and involved phone interviews with around 24,000 commercial and general aviators. The AP says it has been trying to obtain the survey data for 14 months under the Freedom of Information Act.

NASA associate administrator Thomas Luedtke explained to the wire service that release of the data could damage public confidence in the airlines and airline profits. Surely he didn’t mean to imply that if we knew what NASA knew we wouldn’t fly.

Release of the survey might have the opposite effect and demonstrate how safe American aviation really is.

Since the survey was begun as the result of a recommendation from a White House commission, the AP says crashes have dropped 65 percent, with about one fatality for every (ital) 4.5 million (end ital) departures.

Still, NASA has ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all the data from its computers and return any other information related to the survey.

The patronizing implication here is that the American public is incapable of looking at the survey results and deciding for itself whether it wants to fly. A congressional subcommittee has asked NASA for an explanation.

The implication of the survey, in so far as the results are known, is that incidents like near-mid-air collisions, runway incursions, bird strikes and abrupt last-minute changes in landing instructions are more common than supposed and that a better reporting system is needed if the problems are to be remedied.

But, the AP says, the project was shelved for budget reasons. Now that is scary.