The New Frontier in Air Safety
Speaking of flying, this WSJ article last week about the extraordinary improvements in air traffic safety left me asking how we, as a nation, set ambitious goals in this area during the Clinton administration – and met them – yet we've pretty much never met the ambitious goals we've set in K-12 education??? There are big differences, obviously – strong central control, only a few major airlines, etc., but I think there are lessons: a "no excuses" approach, identifying and analyzing problems in great depth, collecting and using data, etc.
Here's some good news for anyone boarding a plane this holiday season: Flying on U.S. airlines has become so safe that experts increasingly believe the biggest remaining risk of an accident is when the wheels are on the ground.
…That's largely because over the past few years, safety programs have achieved remarkable success in reducing airborne risks. Joint industry-government efforts have made once-deadly problems such as navigation errors, fuel-tank fires, weather-related crashes and engine malfunctions a rarity.
There were no fatalities on U.S. commercial flights in 2011. The year before, the only deaths were two pilots who perished in a U.S. cargo plane that caught fire and crashed in Dubai.
…From the late 1990s to the end of the last decade, the fatal-crash rate of U.S. scheduled carriers fell by more than 80%, with no fatalities at all in some years. Improvements in the U.S. have exceeded the ambitious goals established during President Bill Clinton's administration.
…Today's safety efforts depend on expanding databases documenting the full gamut of close calls before they turn into accidents. As part of that effort, at least 37 U.S. airlines, seven more than 18 months ago, are now encouraging pilots to voluntarily file reports about all types of safety lapses, with assurances there will be no punishment. Safety experts have access to more than 100,000 such reports, along with some 30,000 voluntary incident reports filed by air-traffic controllers nationwide.
- DECEMBER 23, 2011