Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety? John Goglia, an independent safety consultant and former National Transportation Safety Board member, talks about whether fliers should be more concerned about airline safety as thousands of planes have been grounded for inspections.
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Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety?

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Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety?

Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety?

Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety?

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John Goglia, an independent safety consultant and former National Transportation Safety Board member, talks about whether fliers should be more concerned about airline safety as thousands of planes have been grounded for inspections.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The reason why all those American Airlines planes are grounded? It's the way some wires are bundled in the MD-80 aircraft. Federal safety inspectors say it is possible the wires could short circuit or even catch fire.

ALEX COHEN, host:

The mechanic I just spoke with, Steve MacFarlane, thinks that's a big problem. That's one perspective. We wanted to hear another.

BRAND: So we called John Goglia, he's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, he's now an independent safety consultant, and John Goglia, welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN GOGLIA (Safety Consultant): Thank you for having me.

BRAND: First of all, let's talk about this particular problem, about the bundled wires. Is that a big safety concern, do you think?

Mr. GOGLIA: It's a violation of the rules because they didn't follow the procedures to the letter, however, the issue that everybody is focused on would not cause an impending or immediate danger to any flight. In fact, it would be likely that these airplanes could fly for years and no one would ever know the difference.

BRAND: So, do you think that there's an overreaction happening?

Mr. GOGLIA: No question that there's an overreaction. And it's unfortunate that the entire FAA is being painted so poorly because of the actions of so few people in one region. Overall, the job that the FAA does is excellent, and look at the record that we've amassed since 9/11. I mean, the record is impeccable, we've had programs in place like the Voluntary Disclosure, which I might remind everybody is what started all this, so, I mean, the systems that we've worked so hard to put in place over the last ten years are in fact working. They've driven the accident rate down into the cellar, and it's crazy what we're doing. It's almost like we're going to kill a successful program.

BRAND: However, some would say better safe than sorry, and so you need to ground thousands of flights well, that's the price you have to pay to just make double sure that the aircraft are safe.

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, I would agree that all our actions should be conservative and for the most part they are. When in doubt, put it down. And that's what we've done here. But I don't think we're in doubt any longer after the first - let's talk about the MD80s, and we're on the first round of putting these down, there was no doubt that the work was done. Having worked for years and years on those airplanes in that very wheel-well on those very bundles, I think this is a non-issue.

BRAND: What about some other issues? Are there any? Are there any graver safety concerns you have for the industry as a whole?

Mr. GOGLIA: My real concern right now is that we're going to kill these voluntary programs, and we're going to reverse the good work that the FAA has done.

BRAND: Be more specific, if you will. What do you mean by the volunteer?

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, when an airline - an individual or an airline finds something that they don't like, they come forward to the FAA and say hey, we've got a problem. And it may be an imaginary problem, it may not be real, but we're looking at this, and we found this, or one of our people has reported that this process didn't work for them.

BRAND: Well now, the whole problem with Southwest is that they didn't do that, and actually told one of the workers at Southwest not to report it to the FAA.

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, that's why they're faced with the actions that they're faced with. But - and just the opposite with American Airlines. They did find it in concert with the FAA, and they ended up putting the airplanes down, working through it. Ten years ago we didn't have that link. We didn't have the ability for a pilot to say you know, I'm flying this procedure, and I was going into San Francisco, and I had a problem. And instead of going after him for busting the rule, we'll take a look at the procedure. And there have been tons of procedures that have been changed as a result of those kinds of reports. We've got a ways to go, but it has driven many, many improvements.

BRAND: But why are you concerned that that's now going to go away?

Mr. GOGLIA: Because comments by some of our political leaders on the Hill that they didn't like this cooperation between the FAA and the industry, and the only way we would get that information is through those cooperative programs.

BRAND: You mean that the two have gotten too cozy?

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, that's the allegation.

BRAND: Right.

Mr. GOGLIA: I would not agree with that across the board.

BRAND: John Goglia, thanks for joining us.

Mr. GOGLIA: Thank you for having me.

BRAND: That's John Goglia. He's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, now an independent safety consultant.

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Airlines Scramble as Grounded Planes Cause Chaos

Airlines Scramble as Grounded Planes Cause Chaos

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American Airlines has canceled thousands of flights this week for safety checks on its passenger planes. The FAA says the jetliners hadn't been properly inspected, and several other U.S. carriers have had to cancel flights as well. To get through the logistical chaos, the airlines are shuffling passengers, empty planes, mechanics, inspectors — and a lot of paperwork.

The American terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is full of people who knew their flights would be grounded. Hope Carter has known for two days.

"They said that we had to come here to the airport to get everything straightened out, that they wouldn't do it over the phone," she says. Carter's flight to Austin, Texas, was canceled Wednesday. She's sitting in a wheelchair, with her infant, 2-year-old and 4-year-old grandchildren all hitching a ride.

"Even when I told them I was handicapped, and I said my daughter's going to have to come and she has seven kids, a newborn baby, she said she was really sorry but that was all they could do," says Carter, one of tens of thousands of passengers that American Airlines has been apologizing to this week.

Repairing Equipment, Not Relations

Some of them are standing around an automatic check-in kiosk at O'Hare that Onivi Kodovoh is trying to restart. It crashed trying to process more than 500 cancellations at once.

"It stopped working on someone — it couldn't scan passports anymore — so I am here to reprogram, load the software and have it working," Kodovoh says.

American is trying to fix the planes, too. One of the airline's eight maintenance sites is at O'Hare, where some of its MD-80s are being inspected.

"I hate to use the word 'grounded' — 'temporarily not in service' is the vernacular I choose to use," says American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan. She says a few dozen planes are still at O'Hare's facility. The airline has been sending mechanics from places such as Kansas City and Tulsa to make sure each plane "meets the very precise, detailed, specific standard of the FAA in order to be in complete and utter compliance with the airworthiness directive," Fagan says.

Planes need to fulfill a number of these airworthiness directives, or "ADs," before they are allowed to carry passengers.

This AD applies to all airlines and concerns bundles of wires in the wheel wells and the protective plastic sleeves that cover them.

A Matter of Compliance

The FAA's former director of flight standards, Nick Lacey, says that sleeve is there because the wires in some planes were starting to smoke, "so in case there was a spark or fire, it wouldn't leap over into ... hydraulics and fluids in that area."

Although the fire hazard sounds alarming, Lacey says, it's less about safety than compliance.

A mechanic has to look into the wheel wells of each plane and see if the wires are secured to the sleeve at all the right points. That could take minutes or hours. Then the work has to be approved by an inspector and written up before the plane can be pressed back into service.

While Lacey says there was no immediate danger, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory says any noncompliance — no matter how small — is a safety issue, and the alternative is unthinkable.

"You may be inconvenienced for a few hours, you may be inconvenienced for a day. But you'll have that day. And you'll have another day," Cory says.

She agrees that it's unusual for the FAA to tell U.S. carriers to do a self-audit but that 99 percent of airlines have passed the first stage. Cory wouldn't say which did and which did not.

The nation's largest carrier is still apologizing and saying it hopes to have all of its planes back in the air this weekend.

Diantha Parker reports from Chicago Public Radio.