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Aviation Near-Mishaps More Common Than Thought

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Aviation Near-Mishaps More Common Than Thought

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Aviation Near-Mishaps More Common Than Thought

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There is reversal today from NASA over a survey of pilots about aviation safety. The survey of 24,000 pilots found there are a lot more near-misses on runways and in the air than everyone thought. NASA officials originally refused to release the findings. Under heavy pressure from Congress and the media, the space agency did an about face.

NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: The public hasn't seen the study, but Congressman Bart Gordon has, and he says what he read is scary. He quoted from one interview with a pilot.

Representative BART GORDON (Democrat, Tennessee): After two previous red eyes -this being the third red eye in a row - the last 45 minutes of flight, I fell asleep and so did the first officer. We missed all calls from the air traffic control.

SCHALCH: At a hearing today, the Tennessee Democrat said this is just one of thousands of interviews in the four-year project, which costs over $11 million. Today, Gordon and other lawmakers chastised NASA administrator Michael Griffin for keeping the results secret. NASA provoked outraged by first saying it was withholding the information to avoid upsetting air travelers and hurting the airlines. But today, Griffin cited another reason - he said pilots who took part were promised confidentiality.

Mr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (Administrator, NASA): In its present form, some of the examples can be traced back to pilots, and in some named individual airlines. That can't be allowed.

SCHALCH: He also suggested that the survey data might not be reliable.

Mr. GRIFFIN: It is simply not credible to believe that the aviation community is experiencing nearly four times the number of engine failures that are being documented by the FAA.

SCHALCH: The former head of the research project, Robert Dodd, told lawmakers the survey was based on outstanding science, and he didn't expect its findings to change. And lawmakers, including Illinois Democrat Jerry Costello, made it clear they want answers.

Representative JERRY COSTELLO (Democrat, Illinois): And I've heard from complete strangers to me at airports as I am flying, what's going on with this report and why won't you release it to the public? If it is a priority to us, shouldn't it be a priority to your agency to scrub this and get it out to the public immediately?

SCHALCH: Griffin promised NASA will check the survey and should be ready to release it by the end of the year.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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