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26 October 2007

Opinion: NASA Wrong to Hide the Results of Safety Survey

The recent revelations by the Associated Press that NASA management has withheld the results of a safety survey of 24,000 pilots came as a shock to many, and the resulting public outcry over these NASA decisions should come as no surprise. Over the last several decades, NASA has been held in extremely high regard by the general public and by the aviation community in large part because the outcomes of NASA's efforts, whether triumphant or tragic, were not hidden from the public view.

As for NASA’s research efforts, there are many in the aviation community, myself included, who have worked directly with NASA on one project or another. While the results of any research project may not have met or exceeded the expectations of the participants, there has always been an expectation that the results would be available for everyone to see, and that the aviation community would get a chance to use the results of the study to enhance aviation. One only has to recall NASA's 1984 Controlled Impact Demonstration Test which was a spectacular failure with respect to demonstrating the usefulness of a fuel additive to reduce the risk of post crash fuel fires, but one that was and continues to be a very valuable source of information on crashworthiness. Had NASA used similar logic in 1984, the results of the test, and the opportunity to learn from the test, would have been suppressed because the public may have been afraid to fly after seeing images of the aircraft engulfed in flames.

The average person may not have cared about or understood the results of the study, but the public's reaction has shown that they care very much about how NASA behaves. In this case, NASA is behaving badly, and it is likely that the almost universal condemnation of NASA over their recent decisions has happened because NASA's actions are seen by many as being detrimental to aviation as well as a radical departure from the organization’s normal behavior.

Perhaps the study was so badly conceived and executed that the results will do nothing to further aviation safety. It may even be true that the general public would fear getting on an airplane once the report were released. Those are judgments that should be made by the general public and by the aviation community and not by NASA management. In my opinion, the best option for NASA is to publicly admit that keeping the study from the public was not a good idea, and to release the results of the study to the public as soon as possible.

There are many organizations, including my organization the Foundation, that benefit from the open exchange of information. The web site is mostly dedicated to providing information on events that have caused the deaths of airline passengers. During the 11 years it has been up and running, I've received many comments from the public. While some have told me that looking at the site makes them afraid to fly, the vast majority appreciate the information and find it useful. I have no doubt that once NASA does the right thing and releases the data, the public will have a similar reaction.

BBC Interviews on this Issue
In October 2007, I was one of the experts interviewed by the BBC on NASA's plans. Excerpts are available at

20 October 2007

New Plane Crash Video Resource at and the Foundation launched its newest blog today, Crash Videos at This blog features a range of crashes involving jet airliners, general aviation, and military events. You can find out about this blog, the other blogs, as well as other featured site content at the Special Features page.

19 October 2007

New Features Added to

Over the last several months, several features have been added to the site, including several blogs in addition to the News blog. You can get familiar with these features by visiting the Features page at There is also a link to the Features page in the menu bar of many of the site's pages.

15 October 2007

Free Report Resource Page Added

A new resource page with links to free reports about airline safety and online safety was launched today. A joint project of and the Foundation, this page allows visitors to choose from a variety of reports about airline safety and security issues, as well as reports containing advice on how to address common online safety and security concerns.

By simply sending an email request, the full reports will be sent immediately. As an added bonus, users are allowed to reprint any of these reports in a blog, newsletter, or other publication.

Visit for details.

08 October 2007's New Airline Complaint Blog

Every month, forwards hundreds of airline travel complaints to the Department of Transportation. A new blog, Complain About Your Airline, will showcase a sample of the most interesting and unusual complaints. Feel free to add your comments to the blog, or to submit your own complaint to

07 October 2007

DOT Changes Complaint Submission Rules

As of October 2007, passengers and others are no longer able to submit complaints directly to the DOT using email. The options are to use a DOT online form or to mail the complaint to the DOT. will continue to forward complaints to the DOT, so you may still use the Online Complaint Form. For details on your current complaint options, please visit the Complaint Page.