(Herald Tribune) NASA is withholding 24,000 responses to safety questionnaires supplied by airline pilots and others to avoid shaking public confidence in the air transport system, over the objections of the survey's designers. But Federal Aviation Administration officials expressed doubts about the data's usefulness.
The questionnaires ask about bird strikes, near misses in the air or on runways, last-second changes in landing instructions from air traffic controllers and other problems. Two people involved in the data gathering said that the answers showed far higher rates of problems than data collected by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The questionnaires were called for in 1997 by a White House commission on aviation safety, known as the Gore Commission. The interviews, conducted by phone, were completed in early 2005.
Two people involved in the survey, called the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service, said that they had been ordered by NASA not to talk about what it found but they said that it indicated that the aviation administration had underestimated the rate of safety events.
At that agency, Peggy Gilligan, the deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, said it had been briefed on the results but had not seen the data itself. But she cast doubt on its value, saying that the answers were not sufficiently detailed to determine, for example, if two pilots describing a similar problem were in fact talking about the same event.