The Truth About Airline Safety
Wesley J. Smith
Or, Unsafe at Any Altitude: a measured, albeit merciless, critique of commercial aviation's safety policies and practices. Drawing on publicly available data, Nader (coauthor, The Big Boys, 1986, etc.) and Smith (Witness to Murder, 1991) make a persuasively documented, often chilling case for the proposition that in many respects flying is not safe enough. More disturbingly, they argue that the level of risk appears to be growing. Going well beyond accident and fatality statistics, the veteran consumer advocates cast a cold eye on the institutional factors that can make life-or-death differences for air travelers. Shortly after takeoff, for instance, they strafe the FAA (a slow-moving bureaucracy charged with promoting commercial aviation as well as air safety) and deregulation (in their view, an ill-advised experiment that has strained the airline industry's finances, tempting it to cut corners). Targeted as well are the deteriorating condition of the US air-traffic-control (ATC) network; the aging of America's jet fleet (now among the world's oldest); airport security; the ongoing use of dangerous (i.e., flammable and/or toxic) materials in passenger cabins; and the failure of federal officials to insist that carriers equip their planes with state-of- the-art systems. The authors' reform agenda calls for at least modified re-regulation that would subject commuter lines to the same safety standards as trunk carriers; eliminate the FAA's dual mandate and make it a genuinely independent agency with a tenured administrator; establish a separation ATC service; and scrap cost/benefit analyses of issues in which lives might be at stake. Mindful that their recommendations are unlikely to be embraced or adopted soon, the authors close with a catalogue of tips on surviving crashes or allied emergencies--and becoming an activist in the cause of air safety. An impressive marshalling of grim fact and outraged opinion.