NPR logo

Hear Kathleen Schlach's story on the NASA aviation survey on Morning Edition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15835072/15834539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
NASA Survey Reveals Hazardous Skies

Research News

NASA Survey Reveals Hazardous Skies

Hear Kathleen Schlach's story on the NASA aviation survey on Morning Edition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15835072/15834539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

In a reversal, NASA promises to release the results of an air safety survey. The study was based on four years of interviews with thousands of pilots of commercial and general aviation aircraft. It suggests that the skies are more hazardous than the government has acknowledged.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

NASA has reversed itself and is now promising to release the results of an air safety survey. The study was based on four years of interviews with thousands of pilots of commercial and general aviation aircraft. It suggests that the skies are more hazardous than the government has acknowledged.

NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: At a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the findings have him worried.

Mr. JIM HALL (Former Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board): This survey reportedly states that runway incursions and near collisions occur at least twice as much as is commonly thought.

SCHALCH: Hall said the information should be made public as soon as possible.

Mr. HALL: If we don't know something is broken, we cannot fix it.

SCHALCH: NASA conducted the study as part of a project launched in the late 1990s, reduced the number of fatal aviation accidents. Reporters spent more than a year trying to get the results under the Freedom of Information Act. But NASA turned the request down saying it didn't want to unduly upset air travelers and hurt airline profits. That didn't sit well with lawmakers who grilled NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

Dr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (Administrator, NASA): We did say that. That was the wrong thing to have said. I apologize that anyone in my agency did say that.

SCHALCH: Griffin told lawmakers NASA will release the survey but probably not until the end of the year. First, it wants to review the data to make sure it's accurate. The agency also needs to remove information that could reveal the identities of the pilots and the airlines they worked for. The pilots spoke candidly to telephone interviewers in exchange for the pledge that they would remain anonymous.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NASA Chief Agrees to Release Aviation Survey

Hear Kathleen Schlach's story on the NASA aviation survey on Morning Edition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15836897/15834539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

NASA's administrator promised on Wednesday to reveal the results of an aviation survey that found near collisions, runway interference and other safety problems occur far more often than previously believed.

Michael Griffin told a congressional panel the agency would first delete information that would make it possible to identify any of the 24,000 pilots who were interviewed. He also said NASA would release only data that do not contain what he described as confidential commercial information.

"The survey results we can legally release will be released, period," he said. He estimated that redacting the identifiers would take until the end of the year, although a survey expert told Congress it could be done in a week.

NASA officials have refused for more than a year to release the results of the survey, saying it would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits.

That response brought criticism from lawmakers and the man who headed the research project for NASA.

"I don't believe that the ... data contained any information that could compare with the image of a crashed air carrier airplane or would increase passengers' fear of flying," said Robert Dodd, NASA's former head of the research project.

Griffin was apologetic. "We did say that. That was the wrong thing to have said," Griffin admitted to the panel. "I apologize. ... People make mistakes. This was a mistake."

But NASA's administrator raised doubts about the reliability of his own agency's research, telling lawmakers that NASA does not consider the survey's methodology or data to have been sufficiently verified.

Griffin said the project showed many types of safety problems occurred more frequently than were reported by other U.S. government monitoring programs. He cautioned that the data was never validated and warned, "There may be reason to question the validity of the methodology."

"What I'm hearing you say is, we've just thrown $11 million down a rat hole," said Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY), referring to the survey's price tag.

Experts who worked on the study — including Dodd — disputed Griffin's remarks.

Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who helped create the survey questions, said the research adhered to the highest standards.

Krosnick told Congress that aviation experts from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, and the White House Office of Management and Budget and other groups reviewed the research plans.

Dodd told lawmakers the survey was based on outstanding science, extensively tested and ready for meaningful analysis. Dodd said NASA's earlier explanations for withholding the information were "without merit."

NASA conducted the study as part of a project launched in the late 1990's to reduce the number of fatal aviation accidents.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press