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Friendly skies?: Only NASA knows the truth
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a display of institutional and bureaucratic arrogance that is distressingly commonplace in the Bush administration, NASA, aka the gang that couldn't fly straight, is stonewalling the press and public.

The agency spent millions of your tax dollars to survey pilots about safety in the skies, presumably to show that you have nothing to fear when flying. But the study indicates that the friendly skies are more dangerous than believed, and NASA is attempting to protect the airline industry at the expense of the traveling public by withholding the results.

The subterfuge began when the study was completed and NASA refused to release the data. The agency rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press, claiming the study was flawed and would undermine public confidence in the airlines and air travel.

After criticism from news organizations and Congress, the agency grudgingly agreed to release at least a portion of the data by year's end. But when the information was issued on New Year's Eve, it was released in a scrambled format that prevents the public and independent analysts from making sense of the results.

The $11.3 million, four-year study, conducted between 2001-2004, polled 25,000 commercial pilots and 4,000 private pilots in an attempt to identify safety problems. According to data gleaned from the study by the AP, there appear to have been at least 1,266 "near misses" during the study period where aircraft flew within 500 feet of each other. Pilots also appear to have admitted to 1,312 incidents in which aircraft suddenly climbed or fell more than 300 feet while in flight, 513 hard landings and 4,267 bird strikes.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin said the study contains nothing "that the traveling public would care about or ought to care about." That's ludicrous. It's a public study, paid for with public money, and the public should have the right to read it. And more importantly, the data are vital to identifying problems, preventing accidents and providing the public with statistics necessary to measure the risks and make informed decisions about modes of travel.

NASA needs to release the study in its entirety, along with the data needed for independent experts and the general public to analyze the results. Safety problems need to be exposed and corrected, not covered up.

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