The Safety of Flight
The AP recently released a story concerning a survey done by NASA over four years, ending about a year ago. The survey of 24,000 pilots, commercial and general, showed what is said to be an alarming number of "near collisions and runway interference." What I can guess this means, specifically, is that a more than acceptable number of planes almost flew into each other in the air, and planes coming in for landing have found their runway being used by other planes, planes they would have landed on if they had not been so observant. That's just my guess, though.
No, I can’t tell you exact numbers, except that supposedly the numbers of these dangerous occurrences are about twice the officially reported numbers. You see, NASA has decided not to release the results of the survey since it ended last year. The AP reported that they have been trying to get the information for over a year, but NASA will not cooperate with them. In fact, NASA has actually attempted to destroy the results of the survey, but were stopped by an order from the federal government before they could get it done. Yeah, pretty crazy, right?
NASA claimed that the information could be dangerous if released, but let’s look at what they mean by that:
Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey.
Yeah. No, they aren’t worried about the safety of the public traveling by air, they are worried about the financial welfare of the companies that operate airlines. Obviously the loyalties of our government have been misaligned, advancing corporate agendas while leaving its citizens unprotected, but that is a different story for a different day.
You are right, there has not been a rise in accidents or disasters related to flight in the past few years, and air travel is probably the safest way to travel. Air travel is safe for a reason, however, so let us do a little more research before we give this subject up. Here is what almost nobody is talking about, what nobody is connecting...
Who is responsible for these types of operations – controlling flight paths to lower the number of near misses and scheduling landing times and locations? Air traffic control, it’s me... So why are air traffic controllers not doing their job better?
According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union for air traffic controllers, they are having a staffing crisis. Go ahead, google them and visit their website, it is full of stories of staff shortages and air traffic controllers screaming that they need help. Between a large number of air traffic controllers retiring and a lack of new hires there are less and less air traffic controllers to do the job. The reasons for the falling numbers of air traffic controllers is even more infuriating.
Those air traffic controllers left working are outraged at their lack of a contract with the FAA, who employs air traffic controllers, who they claim is exploiting them through over work, ten to twelve hour shifts with no breaks and little time between shifts, a lack of vacation time and other morale destroying rules. Pay for new hires has also been reported to have dropped to one-third what it was a few years ago, further discouraging new hires.
You might be asking yourself right now, Why don’t they strike to get their demands met and their voices heard? Well, the last time that air traffic controllers took such a bold stance, then President Ronald Reagan set a very important precedent: he fired all of them, every one of them, destroying the air traffic controller's union and laying another serious blow to worker’s rights (oh look, the federal government once again protecting anybody but its citizens).
The FAA claims that the demands of the NATCA are too much and they have forced a contract of their making on the air traffic controllers. However, whether the demands of the air traffic controllers are overboard or if the FAA is being unreasonable, the current situation is not working and conditions are not improving. Steps need to be taken to resolving this situation not only to the liking of current air traffic controllers, but in a way that will encourage new hirings.
What can we do? The FAA employs air traffic controllers. The FAA is a government organization, an organization subject to the rules set forth by Congress. Congress is supposed to be the voice of the people. Write your congresspersons and demand that they investigate not just NASA’s hiding of these survey results, but also the FAA’s refusal to come to a compromise with their employees and sign a contract agreeable to both sides and one that will result in new hirings.
Write to Congress. Protect our flights. Protect worker’s rights.
I have been accused of "fear-mongering" with this article, so I would like to respond to that publicly here:
If it was my intention to make people afraid of flying, or to spread pointless fear, I coud have done what the AP did and just publish some scary statistics and talked about a big cover-up and left it at that. Or I could have gotten on here and said, "BE AFRAID!!" Instead I have attempted to provide understanding of this situation and a means by which to act. Fear-mongering is pointless, fear is paralyzing, only understanding and action brings about change.