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NASA Releases Cryptic Airline Safety Data 148

An anonymous reader writes "NASA released part of a controversial study about air traffic safety Monday. The space agency spent $11 million on a survey of airline pilots. Agency officials were so disturbed by the findings that they intended to destroy the information rather than release it. But at an October congressional hearing, NASA administrator Michael Griffin changed tack and said the agency would release its findings. The research shows that safety problems occur far more often than previously recognized. NASA has been criticized however for not providing 'documentation on how to use its data, nor did it provide keys to unlock the cryptic codes used in the dataset.'"
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NASA Releases Cryptic Airline Safety Data

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  • Oh no! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This makes me afraid to fly with pilots on board. It would probably be safer if only computers flew the planes. There would also be no way to hijack a plane. I'm very scared.

    I think the airlines should lobby to make me safer by having no pilots on board, then the fares would go down too.

    I'm very afraid. Fire the pilots, or at least only have one on board. That would be safer.

    Getting rid of my rights to a fair trial would also make me feel safer.
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )
      Computers already fly airplanes. Press a few buttons and the whole flight and landing sequence goes on autopilot. However, autopilot only goes according to a flight plan. It does not know the position of other aircrafts in it's surroundings.

      The main issue in airline safety (in my opinion) is not a single pilot or airliner nor terrorists or passengers causing mayhem but it's miscommunication and over-stressed traffic controllers and too much traffic in specific airports (some airports have a plane take off a
  • by gradedcheese ( 173758 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:04PM (#21871306) []

    Rep. John Haller (R-PA) introduces a bill that will allocate (classified) dollars over the next (classified) years to fight flesh-eating (classified).
  • Right! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:05PM (#21871314)
    I'm going to print out the PDF and masturbate to it. If no-one knows how to interpret the data, I'll do it in a sexy way.
  • NASA's mission (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Butisol ( 994224 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:06PM (#21871322)
    NASA lost 2 of their 5 space-worthy shuttles. Are these really the people we should be listening to about safety?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xSauronx ( 608805 )
      Nah, theyre the people we should be listening to when they say something lacks it: they clearly have experience in that area.
    • Re:NASA's mission (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bitrex ( 859228 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @10:57PM (#21871790)
      Richard Fenyman's report on the Challenger disaster stated that shuttle engineers on average believed that a catastrophic vehicle loss would occur once for every 100 flights - as they're on STS 127 now the Space Shuttle program is doing approximately par for the course. Space flight is orders of magnitude more risky than air transport, and while both disasters were caused by engineering flaws in the end it seems unfair to make such an apples to oranges comparison and say that NASA knows nothing about safety. Perhaps their management knows little about safety (they wildly overestimated the shuttle's reliability to the media, after all), but given the complexities involved it seems a miracle of engineering safety and otherwise that anyone comes back alive at all.
      • Re:NASA's mission (Score:5, Insightful)

        by giorgist ( 1208992 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @07:11AM (#21873310)
        In Engineering you never fire an Engineer that lived through a disaster that is his mistake. They just lesson cost them 1 billion dollars. You don't fire somebody after having lived through that lesson. He/She is gold. Making mistakes or living through exceptional disasters are invaluable. You do fire somebody if they repeat mistakes. G
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Matey-O ( 518004 )
        You're not bending the stats correctly. Rather than saying you'll have one disaster per 100 flights, you should put it in terms of Million Miles Flown per incident.

        Then classify an incident as 'unintended disassembly'.
    • Yes. The shuttle is the first "space truck" every built. Considering the complexity of the systems and problems and the fact that the whole program was underfunded pretty much from day one, it's amazing what they've accomplished and how few people we've lost. Now we need the funding and real cross-administration political will to do something even better, but we aren't going to get it anytime soon, because there are too many people who have little understanding of what it costs to explore a new frontier. A
      • Re:NASA's mission (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ChronosWS ( 706209 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @11:12PM (#21871848)
        We need a motivation. In the past, this has almost always been for one of two reasons:
        1) Profit.
        2) Beat our competition to it so we don't look weak.

        Number 1 is a pretty hard sell at the moment because we don't really have a clue how to monetize space yet. Some rich people are beginning to take those risks for various reasons, and hopefully something will fall out of that. Don't expect people to be seriously considering bringing in trillion dollar asteroids to NEO to mine though.

        Number 2 hasn't been a motivation for a while. The few players in this arena who can field whole space programs themselves don't view each other as competitors, nor do they view failing to make it to the next milestone first as a defeat in any sense. If China proves out a full, impressive space program which looks like it might be a military or economic threat to the West, then perhaps we will see something. Until then, I wouldn't count on this as a motivator either.

        Straight risk-taking isn't really an option for governments right now either, especially Western ones, due to monetary concerns (like shoveling billions into various police actions.) This leaves us basically with billionaires that have a lot of time on their hands to bring down the cost so that governments, which ultimately are most likely to take those risks, will be able to justify the cost of doing so. So if you want to see space really done right, support those companies and persons who are working to make it cheap.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tic!lock ( 1207584 )
          We need a motivation. In the past, this has almost always been for one of two reasons:
          1) Profit.
          2) Beat our competition to it so we don't look weak.

          Sometimes in the past groups of humans have done "crazy" things in the name of survival, as well. :)

          Number 1 is a pretty hard sell at the moment because we don't really have a clue how to monetize space yet. Some rich people are beginning to take those risks for various reasons, and hopefully something will fall out of that. Don't expect people t
          • As to trillion dollar NEAs, why not? Many if not most of them are likely to be old comets without a lot of heavy metals, but if we could find one that had high concentrations of heavy metals, we're likely only talking about a 100-150m diameter rock. It might take a generation or two to bring it in, but we could do it with existing technology.

            When was the last time you saw anything in the space program really thought out and executed that had a payoff in a generation or two, as opposed to within the next 5 to 10 years? No one wants to take the risk right now, and that's my point. We have a very risk-averse government at the moment. An external influence will have to prove to them that the risks are low, or at least cheap. Neither is true presently.

            Also you can be guaranteed people would be afraid of moving a rock of any significance to N

      • Just for one minute think about the space program you could have had for the cost of the Iraq war...

        Not to even think about all the tech spin-offs and basic industrial advances.

    • by Butisol ( 994224 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:54AM (#21872274)
      That has to be the stupidest comment I've ever posted to Slashdot... and I get a "5, Insightful." WTF?
    • Simple. NASA knows quite a bit about aviation safety. However, they're not responsible for it in any direct manner.

      This makes me fairly inclined to believe what they have to say -- they're in the unique position of being experts on the subject, but also relatively unbiased. If NASA releases an overwhelmingly positive or negative report about the state of the FAA, it's not going to considerably effect NASA no matter what the outcome. (Although, an accurate report outlining specific failures of the FAA
  • blame the media (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:06PM (#21871324)
    I think our retarded media has more to do with government secrecy then any conspiracy. I'm a pilot. None of this data is surprising, unexpected, or really, in any way new. However, the retards at fox news and CNN will spin this to sell add space instead of to show how safe aviation really is. As in ... Oh my GOD!!!! the airplanes were 4.8 miles apart instead of 5 miles. Panic!!!!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Oswald ( 235719 )
      Don't worry, you won't be hearing about the 4.8's any more. The FAA has reclassified anything better than 90% of required separation as a Proximity Event instead of an Operational Error. Expect a major reduction in Operation Errors real soon.
    • by Buran ( 150348 )
      So... you're OK with a literal last-minute ("we'll release something by the end of the year"), half-assed (no info describing what the records mean), lame (I'm sure there's a lot missing from this report) effort that wasn't going to be out in the first place ("we don't want to hurt the profits of lazy airlines who don't give a shit about their customers that they just see as walking wallets")?

      Got it.

      Great. Do you fly an airline, and which one is it, so I can avoid them for life because now I know they hire
  • by T1girl ( 213375 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:08PM (#21871332) Homepage
    "Earlier characterizations from people who have seen the results said they would show that events like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. Such information could not be gleaned from the 16,208 pages posted by NASA on its Web site, however, because of information that was edited out. "

    Your tax dollars at work.

    his reminds me of the time President Bush dismissed an EPA [] Bush dismisses global warming warning on global sarming as the work of the the bureaucracy.
    • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @01:26AM (#21872366) Journal
      his reminds me of the time President Bush dismissed an EPA []? [] Bush dismisses global warming warning on global sarming as the work of the the bureaucracy.

      Oh yeah... that was so funny, I ... eh, eh, what was that you said?
    • that G-sey feeling (Score:5, Interesting)

      by epine ( 68316 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @08:20AM (#21873524)
      I once flew out of Chicago, early 1990s, 737 IIRC, where coming up off the runway the plane banked *hard* like I've never experienced before or after. It felt like a 30 degree bank, but it was probably more like 5 degrees, the human mind tends to exaggerate slopes so badly. The G force exceeded anything I've ever felt on a runway. At the crazy angle (I was on the down-wing side) the flight attendants strapped in beside the exit doors seemed like they were a floor or two above me. I was concentrating on keeping my head centered at the top of my neck, so I didn't orient myself to ground features. People gasped, but no-one vocalized. Not even a kick in the aft to lift out of Denver on a hot summer day would compare to G-force we were pulling. The plane seemed to also pitch nose upward and climb hard. It was smooth, forceful, and disorienting. I had visions of children tearing the wings off a fly. Those wings really are amazingly strong. Then the plane smoothly returned to level flight.

      Moments later, with no hesitation at all, the pilot came onto the intercom in the most baritone lounge-chair voice you can imagine:

      "I just had a chat with air traffic who told me they would feel a lot more comfortable if I banked to the right. I said to myself 'if they're more comfortable, then I'm more comfortable' so we did. Now we're all feeling very comfortable. It should be a smooth ride into Toronto, so relax and enjoy the in-flight service."

      No doubt we were bearing toward Baltimore as he spoke and air traffic was still busy determining how to turn him around again.

      I also wondered what additional service is required when they ping the G ball for 15 seconds like that. I just found a web page that states that the g-force limit of a 737 is unknown. Fortunately, the answer wasn't recovered from the flight recorder of the plane I was on that day.

      My father was once on a flight that dumped fuel over the ocean, circled back, and landed five minutes after takeoff. I've always suspected that incidents were more frequent than the airline industry wishes to publicize. I wonder if that smooth recovery speech is part of the pilot simulator training. I wonder if he was giving us that speech while the copilot was checking out the lights that indicate the wings are indeed still attached.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vijayiyer ( 728590 )
        Aircraft certificated in the Normal category by the FAA are required to withstand at least +3.8g and -1.52g. What you felt was just a steep turn. Just because the airplane is normally maneuvered to keep passengers comfortable doesn't mean that it's not capable of a lot more. I doubt you were feeling much more than 1.4g (which is all you pull in a coordinated 45banked turn).
        • In more general terms, the G load in a coordinated turn is just the secant of the bank angle.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ScrewMaster ( 602015 )
            ... the bank angle.

            The bank angle, of course, being the problem so many airlines are in financial trouble nowadays.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AgentPaper ( 968688 ) *
        I, too, experienced a similar event on a 757, flying American from DTW to ORD in 2004. We were flying a normal approach when we suddenly pulled up, poured on the power and executed what felt like a very severe turn - things came out of the overhead bins, and the "down" wing appeared to be pointing quite sharply at the ground. (As parent poster mentioned, it was probably only a 5-10 degree bank, but it was steep enough and executed quickly enough to toss briefcases and purses across the cabin, so take that
        • by Buran ( 150348 )
          I sure hope that other pilot got a talking-to for putting other people in danger, as stuff falling out of overhead bins can severely injure people.

          I wonder how pathetic those latches are if they open during a sharp turn? The bins should be latched securely enough to withstand any maneuver the aircraft is capable of within design spec. Clearly, someone got cheap.
          • I'd say it probably isn't the latches that are pathetic, but the passengers who jam clearly infeasible luggage into the bins.
            • by Buran ( 150348 )
              And yet, the bin completely closed, or the flight wouldn't have taken off. Once the bin is closed there's no excuse for it to open until someone pushes the button. If the bins open in midair something must be done as that's a safety issue.
      • My father was once on a flight that dumped fuel over the ocean, circled back, and landed five minutes after takeoff.

        Reminds me of a flight I was on in Australia at the end of my R&R from Vietnam. We left Sydney on a Flying Tiger Stretch 707 headed for Cam Ranh Bay with a fuel stop in Darwin. Over the Outback, we experienced an hydraulic failure involving a control surface; the rudder, as I recall. We land in Darwin with no problem, the plane is worked on for about nine hours and we take off around midn

      • by Shotgun ( 30919 )
        My father was once on a flight that dumped fuel over the ocean, circled back, and landed five minutes after takeoff.

        Airplanes have a maximum takeoff weight, and a maximum landing weight. They are not necessarily the same. If the plane is dumping fuel over the ocean, I deduce that it was probably a transoceanic flight. The plane had a long way to go and would want to carry as much fuel as possible. Someone could get sick, and the pilot would need to turn back to the airport. The landing gear can't hold
      • For what it's worth, it probably didn't occur to the pilot that the turn was particularly steep. When you get your pilot certificate, or do your once-every-two-years flight review, one of the things you have to do is demonstrate steep turns, which means well over 45 degrees, in both directions, one after another. A 30 degree turn is pretty ho-hum.

        While the g-force limit of a 737 might be unknown, it has been designed and tested to exceed by at least 150% the stress/strain requirements for a transport-cate
  • The columns in the PDF document are:
    Flight Hours, Flight Legs, Career Hours, Aircraft 1, % Hours Aircraft 1, Aircraft 2, % Hours Aircraft 2, Aircraft 3, % Hours Aircraft 3, Aircraft 4, % Hours Aircraft 4, Aircraft 5, % Hours Aircraft 5, Aircraft 6, % Hours Aircraft 6.

    How this is useful safety information is left as an excersize for the reader.
    • Getting their data into 1NF is left as an exercise to the reader.

      THESE people launch the space shuttle? The reason they don't build a fifth one is because their inventory database has the columns:

      Name,SKU, QtyShuttle1, QtyShuttle2 , QtyShuttle3 , QtyShuttle4
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      The columns in the PDF document are:
      How this is useful safety information is left as an excersize for the reader

      Well, it doen't take a genius to draw a few conclusions. Looking at some "coincidences":

      We have 25360 two-column rows (745 +30/34 pages at 34/page) with no clear ordering. From the magnitude of the hours, I would suspect it has a base unit of at least one month, and probably more (due to the presence of a few high numbers such as 300 hours).

      We have 25308 "career hours" rows (744 +12/3
  • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:13PM (#21871348)
    So, the first 1500 pages seem to be one or two columns of data on the pilots involved (# of flight hours?) The next 1000 pages are incident reports (planes 1 thru 6, but mostly 1 or 2 planes,) with so few columns you can't tell who, what, or when the incident occurred.

    Hey, NASA, thanks a lot.

    (oh, and if you're worried about people using a modified/hacked data set, publish a hash on your website.)
    • by WaltBusterkeys ( 1156557 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:44PM (#21871506)
      -- you can't tell who, what, or when the incident occurred.

      That's part of the point. The data collection is ANONYMOUS. The goal is that pilots will report MORE if they know that their voluntary reporting of incidents that don't require FAA reports will stay anonymous. Stuff happens up there. Sometimes it's bad stuff that's nobody's fault. But a pilot is far more likely to call attention to a potentially bad situation that's nobody's fault if he knows that it won't come back and bite him.

      If you add the exact time and coordinates of every incident it wouldn't be hard to back-track and put names with each one. There are VERY detailed FAA records of who flew every flight leg in the country over the last few years. It's not hard to back-up anonymous data if you leave too many variables that can be referenced with outside data -- see what happened to Netflix/IMBD [].

      If it takes anonymity to get better data, then let's get better data. I'd much rather have more anonymous pilots reporting close calls truthfully than have fewer pilots reporting data and trying to put a positive spin on it. You can make as many laws as you want requiring disclosure, but every single pilot in the known universe will always put a positive spin on things if he knows that his job (and his family) are on the line.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        They collect phone numbers, names, addresses, date, time, and location of incident, and make and model of aircraft involved. They (claim to) remove the identifying information but there is no mention of removing the information about the incident itself. Indeed they should not, as this information is valuable. Much more important in encouraging pilots to submit reports is the fact that submitting a report on an incident, with some exceptions, makes the submitting pilot immune to any enforcement action relat
  • Not Your Job (Score:5, Informative)

    by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:13PM (#21871350)

    NASA begrudgingly released some results Monday from an $11.3 million federal air safety study it previously withheld from the public over concerns it would upset travelers and hurt airline profits.
    Hey NASA, it's not in your charter to protect airline profits. You know what IS in your charter?

    "[the agency shall] provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof."
    • Re:Not Your Job (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:10AM (#21872130)
      Fortunately, since it was public knowledge that NASA was conducting the study, it was more difficult for certain factions within NASA or low-level political appointees to pull a Philip Cooney [] style "editing" of the results and conclusions. The truth must be told, no matter how bad it is or how much it hurts the airlines. Failure to release the full report because the average American might "draw the wrong conclusions" or become scared or "lose confidence" in the airlines is NOT an acceptable excuse to edit, quash, or destroy the report. The people have a right to know what risks they are taking when they fly, particularly when their tax dollars paid for the formal analysis of those risks by qualified scientists and other experts.
      • by Buran ( 150348 )
        Exactly why repeated FOIA requests must be filed, and if they try to hide behind excuses to not give us all the data, repeated lawsuits must be filed.
  • by mikelieman ( 35628 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:18PM (#21871370) Homepage
    Of course, then people could see that the important columns are missing.

  • Summary: (Score:5, Funny)

    by urcreepyneighbor ( 1171755 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:19PM (#21871374)

    It further advises to:

    "Kiss your ass goodbye, because the proles don't want to spend the money to fix the antiquated system."
    I hope the translation is accurate, but my bureaucratese is a little rusty - much like the wings of the planes you people flew in during your holiday travels. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Assuming the actual non-cryptic survey is eventually released: The number to focus on is the rate of actual crashes. Unless this survey reveals a RECENT change for the worse, I would hate to see the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) take action. After all, if a similar driving survey was taken, I believe that many of us would have one "almost crash" nearly every time we go out on the road: Flying is by far the safest way to travel and nothing has changed.
    • For example, we could prohibit airlines from screwing with sleep patterns. If a guy sleeps from 8 AM to 4 PM, you don't suddenly switch him over to sleeping from 4 PM to midnight. Well, you don't do that unless you are an airline or a hospital!
      • Or in law enforcement. I know a guy who worked with the local sheriff department for a few months and quit because the hours drove him nuts. 12 on, 12 off, then after a few days youd switch shifts. Meh.
    • Absolutely, moreover, almost no driver is properly trained to handle extreme conditions and one of the very few who can (Hamilton, the genius F1 pilot) just got his driver license suspended by french policemen for reckless driving (or maybe they were bitter Alonso fans).
  • by flyboy974 ( 624054 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @09:35PM (#21871466)
    I am one of those anonymous pilots who has filed a NASA ASRA report. My report was not of coming close to hitting another aircraft. It was because of a violation of airspace (NASA's own Moffett Field) as a result of Air Traffic Controller mis-communication/hand off. While the pilot is ultimately responsible for communicating with ATC. This program was designed to be anonymous. It provided pilots with a way to discuss issues without having to be identified. This was designed to improve safety. I completely agree with this idea as it frees the pilot from having to come to call for reporting things that could be potentially hazardous or failures within the system. Unfortunately today, lawyers are always searching out new ways to prove negligence. Protecting pilots trying to help is even more important! In the aviation community, there is very little true negligence. Many husbands/spouses of pilots killed sue people after the pilot flew into a mountainside. Why? Because nobody knows why, and there could be many defendants (Airframe, engine, altimeter, radio navigation, radio communication, transponder, ATC (FAA/Government), Spark Plug manger, carberator, etc). Yes, they sue them all because if the jury thinks that any one person might possibly be responsible, it's millions. It's cheaper and/or a safer bet to sue than to buy life insurance it seems these days. I wouldn't mind if they released categoried data, ie, Phase: LANDING, Situation: NEAR MISS, Key 1: Distance, Value 1: 1500ft, etc... IE, you just say what happened, and nothing more. This is what the government really needs. I haven't reviewed all of the data, but, this is very reasonable in the light of trying to determine what is going wrong.
    • Yes, I concur that America is a hyper-litiguous society, suing everyone and everything in sight for no apparent reason. It is one of the most despised aspects of America, as far as other nations are concerned. Any notion of reasonableness has been abandoned, in favour of who can lynch who in the courts.

      No, I do not agree that that is justification for any kind of avoidance. Systems do not change by avoiding the abuses and failures within them. Systems change by confronting the flaws head-on and continuing

  • The summary doesn't match what the article says, and makes claims that appear nowhere else.

    The information "removed" was previously released. What's changed is that it now carries the caveat that it hasn't been peer reviewed. That's where they extract the facts and inject the "not properly vetted" in attempt to use the connotation to make it sound worse.

    One of the people in charge of designing and carrying out the project is complaining about the data handling. He's one of the people who created the data. T
  • Formatting of data
    It's ~24600 rows (746 pages) of what must be pilot data.

    The first 746 pages are Flight Hours (A1), Flight Legs (A2), and would be how many of each the pilot has undertaken, in the last N years.

    The next 746 pages are Career Hours (A8), this is also sorted, so I think it was the key they used.

    The last 746 pages are percentage and plane-type breakdown per pilot.
    It mainly seems to be the larger jets, but there are a few interesting smaller, older aircraft, couple of fighters, and business jets
  • Reporters looking for a sensational story wouldn't hesitate a moment to put up banner headlines screaming about near misses if there's any chance the data can be taken out of context. 1,000 feet of seperation is perfectly safe for planes flying in different directions as long as the 1,000 feet is vertical and not horizontal. I just got home from driving on the interstate where it was a LOT scarier and dangerous to be tailgated at 75 mph by a huge pickup truck. But the hick in the thing would respond prob
    • "ONLY 1,000 FEET AT 500 MPH!! OMG!!"

      Open the blind when flying over the EU, sometimes you can see them wizz by close enough to feel the "wash", it's was quite an awsome sight the first time I saw it. What I find remarkable is that there are so few disasters.

      Regardless of the logic in the traffic comparison, being in a plane still makes me anxious enough that I can't sleep a wink, even on trips from Oz to the EU with an airline that has never lost a plane [].
  • Data relating to pilot competency is one thing, but if they were to reveal
    the statistics relating to near misses that were averted by the TCAS system
    (in some cases unbeknownst to the pilots themselves until they had landed)
    many more people would think twice or perhaps even thrice before boarding
    an aircraft.
    • by ghjm ( 8918 )
      How could TCAS avert a collision without the pilots knowledge? First of all, as far as I know TCAS just gives audible/visual indications, and it's up to the pilots to pull the stick in the recommended direction. Even if the TCAS system is capable of autonomously commanding a control input, the pilots would immediately be aware of the change in heading, altitude, attitude etc ... unless you're prepared to believe that an airline pilot with thousands of hours experience would simply fail to notice when his ai
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xquark ( 649804 )
        There are 3 phases to flight, ascent cruise and descent, from what I understand most of the silent events occur
        during the take-off and landing stages in both cases the secondary systems have to kick-in because either the
        pilot was pulling up too fast and as a result would have hit the tail on runway for take-off, or they were landing
        with an awkward angle.

        In both cases the system automatically kicks in and "attempts" to rectify the situation. The trouble is there is a
        calculation it does relating to a "project
  • So NASA management is naturally heavily politicized, very often determining what information is publicized and what is suppressed. (I have worked at NASA.) It seems a lot more people understand this dynamic in regard to for-profit organizations than in regard to government and research interests.
  • NASA has been criticized however for not providing 'documentation on how to use its data
    Everyone knows an engineer can't write a ledgible manual. Otherwise, everyone's VCR would be set to the appropriate time.
    • by jcgf ( 688310 )

      It's not the engineers. Engineers are required to take english classes for their degrees, while no one is required to study any engineering. I find it's most often the case that the engineer knows more about grammar than the english lit. person knows about electronics.

      On another note some people just grow tired of setting it after frequent power outages...

      I don't really have anything interesting to add to the discussion, I just wanted to ask for your phone number. Hex is just fine as long as you includ

    • Everyone knows an engineer can't write a ledgible manual.

      Apparently, you are one. An engineer, I mean.
  • Not all the data (Score:3, Informative)

    by Evets ( 629327 ) * on Monday December 31, 2007 @10:51PM (#21871778) Homepage Journal
    The dataset linked in the summary looks pretty useless and is really meant to:

    This file contains a portion of the actual or raw responses collected in Section A of the air carrier surveys to show the breadth and scope of the pilot community surveyed and the types of aircraft flown.

    More interesting data that was released is here: []

    Although - these are really just answers to questions. I've spent some time going through the various links and I don't see anything that describes the questions that most of the columns relate to - although this file seems to contain the most information about the results. []
  • Two aircraft close to within 4.5 miles of one another when the safety zone is 5 miles. It gets logged as a near miss. The planes divert because secondary safety systems send alerts to pilots and traffic controllers who take appropriate action.

    Is this proof that that the system is unsafe? Seems to me that something went wrong, safety systems kicked in, people took action as trained, and a problem was mitigated. So, the safety zone being 5 miles paid off. All went well. That's why we have a 5 mile safety zone and not a 4 mile one (or two, or whatever).

    Congratulations to the safety engineers, the pilots, and traffic controllers. Through their training, planning, and risk assessment the practices and procedures were in place to handle a mishap and not result in a tragedy.

    I recall the last few years of service of the Maine Yankee power plant not far from here. One day there was some kind of problem. Safety systems came in to play. The plant was shut down. Nobody was hurt. Nothing dangerous was released. All was well. Some people screamed at the danger of having the plant around. To me, this made no sense. I say the engineers and operators should have been celebrated for having built something that continued to be safe even as its lifespan was drawing to and end. All the safety systems still worked and everyone went home that night to their families.

    Does the system need overhaul? Surely it does. I happen to know a few people who work for the FAA. One is a controller and the other some kind of inspector who flies around a lot and is in charge of some things. I hear stories from them -- though nothing specific -- and I know the stress they're under. We all know the stories off the equipment in use in those towers being insanely antiquated.

    Still and all, these things only prove that to keep thing safe, we're losing efficiency. There is no evidence that we're sacrificing safety. Thousands of these massive things scream down runways at hundreds of miles and hour then leap into the sky propelled by unimaginable forces --all in close quarters to one another -- day in and day out. What a marvel of safety and a triumph of engineering.

    I'm looking forward to my next flights -- all but the stupid TSA part anyway.
    • In reality, yes it's great that the safety systems work

      As a practical matter, the best way to keep people performing to standards is to treat every successful operation of the safety system as a failure of the human operators. It isn't objectively correct, more a psychological trick that reduces the tendency towards complacency.
      • ...each incident where safety systems had to come in to play to figure out why, and what could have been done better. I just object to declaring the system unsafe while we do so.
        • My point was the meaning of the words "unsafe" isn't the same between an objective outside observer and people working inside the system.

          If you are in any critical job like flying an airliner, or operating a nuclear reactor, or driving a warship then you might overract to these "unsafe" events to help keep people focused and fight complaciency. As long as you don't confuse the two perspectives everything works out.
    • Is this proof that that the system is unsafe? Seems to me that something went wrong, safety systems kicked in, people took action as trained, and a problem was mitigated.

      I recall the last few years of service of the Maine Yankee power plant not far from here. One day there was some kind of problem. Safety systems came in to play. The plant was shut down. Nobody was hurt. Nothing dangerous was released. All was well. Some people screamed at the danger of having the plant around.

      Ah, yes - since the safety s

      • ..for anything with a human safety associated?

        I am. Nobody is saying that we should ignore even a single case where safety systems came in to play. All should be investigated and we should understand what, if anything, should be done differently.

        That said, humans make mistakes. Parts fail. Random chance bring strange circumstances together. I'm a firefighter, trained in hazmat, confined space rescue, extrication, rope rescue, ice water rescue, Rapid Intervention, and half a dozen other kinds of emergen
        • I was responsible for such systems as a submariner in the USN, as well as having studied safety issues as an interested (and experienced/knowledgeable) amateur.

          Nobody is saying that we should ignore even a single case where safety systems came in to play. All should be investigated and we should understand what, if anything, should be done differently.

          That's the exact opposite of what your original post strongly implies. An implication which you then repeat in the balance of this message.


          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by CFD339 ( 795926 )

            Why is it that you can't see a difference between internally investigating and correcting something as a routine review process and publicly declaring an entire industry to be rife with major safety issues and destined for disaster?

            Clearly they are two different things.
    • by NoPantsJim ( 1149003 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @07:13AM (#21873322) Homepage
      The exact reason for the 5 mile radius has to do with the errors associated with radar and how far a plane can travel in the time it takes for the radar sweep to update. It's generally 3 mile radius/1000ft vertical near airports, 5 mile radius/1000ft vertical away from airports up to flight level 290, then 5 mile radius/2000ft vertical above that.

      but yes, you're correct, it's generally a system that 'fails well'.
  • by occasional user ( 737487 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @11:27PM (#21871934)
    Back in the day (60s) NASA did a lot of safety work and one of the things that came out of it was the scientific analysis of fatigue. The whole set of transportation rules (trucks, trains, airplane) that deal with fatigue, such as limits on duty days came from this. They identified short and long-term fatigue. Now your airline pilot is certain to be safe from a fatigue standpoint, but your surgeon might be on his 49t hour awake, but that's for another discussion. Next they determined that pilots are so in fear of getting in trouble that they keep information about mistakes to themselves. "Hey!" someone wondered. Let's take this and use it as an incentive. So they came up with a program where if you screwed up, if you told them about what happened and your recommendation to keep it from happening again, they would give you immunity from getting in trouble. A flood of these reports started coming in (like the one from the previous poster yahoo who busted airspace and blames it on a controller). Now these are anonymous. The form that comes back is a receipt with your identifying info taken off of it.'s not hard to tell that an Airbus 319 heading from Denver to Chicago at 9:00 at night on November 30th belongs to...Frontier Airlines. And then the pilots can be identified through their flight time...and that's about as appealing to pilots as posting their medical records on line. The rabble-rousing reporters don't understand the program, the benefits or the rationale behind it. Publishing the data isn't going to make our airspace safer, it's going to ensure a drop in participation (I don't want to see my name in the headlines...especially if I am in an accident and an investigative reporter data mines the records to find the NASA reports I made, don't think it won't happen). Most of the reports are for altitude busts (you get in trouble if you cause a "deal", or a loss of separation with another airplane), mistakenly crossing a runway when not authorized or for getting your paperwork screwed up. Interestingly, one of the first articles to come out from this debate was about a flight crew who fell asleep on the way to Denver and reported it to NASA. No, they didn't get in trouble, but a reporter figured out that it was a Frontier flight (that's why I used the example) and it's no secret who was assigned to that flight, any Frontier employee could look up the records on the computer. Do you think those guys are going to ever file a report again? Both NASA and the NTSB do a good job making recommendations. The airlines and their hand-puppet, the FAA do a very good job of ignoring them.
    • (you get in trouble if you cause a "deal", or a loss of separation with another airplane)

      Best. Euphemism. Ever.

      In other news, a woman sues McDonald's for the loss of low temperature to her legs.

  • Aviation has a long history of safety. It was a perilous profession in the early days, and hanger talk saved many live before "safety" became quantified. NASA safety reports served as a means to "save your ass" if you committed an error that might get you a violation if discovered but not reported. They weren't the first. The concept is that a mistake made by one is a mistake to be made by many. All you need do was fess up and you might get a mulligan- no harm no foul (with limitations- intentional acts are
  • You have 3 tables,

    Table 1 (746 pages):
    Column A1 - Flight Hours (as labeled)
    Column A2 - Flight Legs (as labeled)

    Based on the values in the table, I'm guessing this covers a 5-6 month period. (based on my information of a max. 80 flight hours/month).

    Table 2 (746 pages):
    Column A8 - Career Hours (as labeled)

    Table 3 (746 pages):
    Acft 1
    Acft 2
    Acft 3
    Acft 4
    Acft 5
    Acft 6

    I think it's pretty obvious that "Acft" means aircraft. The document details the flight histories of the pilots in the response set, with 1 row per pi
  • .... nor did it provide keys to unlock the cryptic codes used in the dataset.'"

    It's because all the keys in the datasets identify different kinds of UFOs !!
  • Stuck Mic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ignis Flatus ( 689403 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @06:54AM (#21873274)
    if you're interested in airline safety, there's a guy named "Stuck Mic" that posts a good bit on youtube. [] best i remember, he's either an air traffic controller(or was), and some of the problems go all the way back to the illegal controller strike back during the Reagan Administration. seems there's been an effort under way ever since to replace controllers with an automated system, with the results being that more money goes into the automation effort than actually training and paying a sufficient number of people to do the job. fwiw, i don't have a dog in this fight, just found it interesting. i'm sure there's three sides to everything. they also have a website here: []
    • Re:Stuck Mic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NoPantsJim ( 1149003 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @07:28AM (#21873356) Homepage
      You're right, there are three sides to everything, here's my side. I should mention I am about to graduate from a college with a CTI program with the goal of being a controller.

      The odds that the FAA will ever get a fully automated system off the ground are essentially zero in my opinion. There are still airspace restructuring plans from decades ago that were canceled after running way over budget and missing every single deadline. The idea that the FAA will now leap from having equipment still branded with the Civil Aeronautics Board logo (like they do now) to a state of the art computer system is laughable.

      The current stated goal of the FAA is to progress to 'Free Flight' where essentially pilots pick their flight path rather than being assigned one by ATC. Controllers then only issue commands to pilots if there is a potential conflict. If I were to start my career in ATC tomorrow, I would sincerely be shocked if it were implemented before I retired.

      But then again, we could see another aluminum shower (mid-air collision) and that's been a pretty strong motivator in the past.
  • by unsigned integer ( 721338 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @06:14PM (#21877144)
    to those of us on the plane. One time, flying out of MSP, we pulled on the runway to takeoff, and then sharply pulled back off to the left. Since I was on the left side of the plane, I looked out the window. Low and behold, another large jet just about to land on us, coming in for a landing. Wow.

    The pilot comes on, and says some bullshit about weather ahead and we're going to wait a few more minutes. I wanted to yell out 'Someone nearly got us killed, you lying sack of crap!', but likely that would get me thrown off the plane.

    So whenever I hear the pilot come on, and tell some shit about weather or turbulence, or why the plane is delayed, I don't believe a word of it now. I think that's the part that pisses me off most, to know we're not being dealt with at an adult and honest level.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Yeah, except that you're probably full of it. There probably was weather, there was a guy on final and they had him exit the runway.

      Tell me there sparky, how would a pilot know that an airplane is about to land on him from behind? The rear-view mirrors?

      And why would the guy get off the runway instead of just taking off?

      Per usual, you back-seat pilots are a pain in the ass.

      Let's say New York Center (ATC) has a thunderstorm right over one of the airways. So Center puts 20 mile separation between departure
      • "Tell me there sparky, how would a pilot know that an airplane is about to land on him from behind? The rear-view mirrors?"

        I'm assuming that tower/control would have said something like "Pull the fuck off, there's a plane right about to land on you". Or perhaps something nicer, but I'm guessing there would have been some *urgency* involved in the discussion, given how close it was.

        "And why would the guy get off the runway instead of just taking off?"

        I'm wondering if he could have even gotten up to speed or

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger