October 29, 2009
Two years ago, then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin got into trouble by appearing to censor the results of a pilot survey that reportedly showed a higher than expected number of airplane accidents and near-accidents. Some accused NASA of squelching the truth to protect the airline industry. Congress harrumphed, Griffin denied any wrongdoing, and NASA agreed to release the data in a “redacted” or edited form, while pointing out that the survey methods and results had never been properly vetted. The agency then asked the National Research Council to determine whether the survey, called the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (NAOMS), had been done correctly.
The short answer: no. The NRC panel—which includes experts in aviation, survey methodology, and statistics—found all kinds of problems with NAOMS, from poor question wording to a failure to eliminate possible sources of bias. They recommend that the survey, which was jointly managed by NASA and the Battelle Memorial Institute, “not be used for generating rates or trends in rates of safety-related events in the National Airspace System.”
Besides, says the panel, the Federal Aviation Administration is already developing a pretty good tool, called the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing System, or ASIAS, to search existing safety databases for easier analysis.
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