Shocking air safety breaches emerge nationwide in data analysis

See related content: NASA fields growing number of air-safety reports with limited staff

By Brant Houston, Investigative News Network; Robert McClure, InvestigateWest; and Kevin Crowe, The Watchdog Institute

A commercial airline pilot en route to San Diego International Airport looks out a window at 10,800 feet and sees a Lockheed S-3 Viking Navy jet coming right at him. 

“The captain quickly pulled up on the control column to avoid hitting the S3,” the co-pilot wrote in a report filed with federal officials. “He turned his head to the right, which made me look out of my window on the right. And the window was full of the S3.” 

The two planes passed within about 100 feet of each other. 

This is just one of thousands of examples of near-misses, bad communications, equipment failures, wildlife hits and sometimes just silly but dangerous errors contained in an aviation safety database collected and analyzed by NASA. 

A six-month examination of more than 150,000 reports filed by pilots and others in the aviation industry over the past 20 years reveals surprising and sometimes shocking safety breaches and close calls at local, regional and major airports throughout the country. 

A consortium of journalists working at six nonprofit investigative centers across the U.S. reviewed the records with Investigative News Network, of which they are members, and National Public Radio. To put the confidential reports into context, the journalists did extensive data analysis of the reports and conducted scores of interviews with pilots, air traffic controllers and aviation safety experts. 


Fighting climate change keeps us healthier

Still wrapping up some of the amazing stuff I learned at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference:

The Europeans are ahead of us on climate change. OK, that's not amazing. But their message is provocative: Taking steps to slow climate change will also be good for our health.

[caption id="attachment_5118" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Jonathan Patz"]Jonathan Patz[/caption]

Not long before December's  global talks on fighting global warming, look for research to appear in The Lancet enumerating a number of ways such a course of action will make our physicians happy.

This word comes from Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin scientist and IPCC author who appeared on a panel I organized for the SEJ conference. The work of Patz and others on an American version of this research is due out in the spring.

It's true that when you think about it, most of these benefits should be obvious. But I hadn't considered them all. And it sounds like this new research will quantify them somewhat. Said Patz:

This is the biggest public-health opportunity in a century.

Here's at least a partial rundown of the health benefits we're talking about:

  • Reduced air pollution. Coal burns dirtier than natural gas, which burns a lot dirtier than, well, these don't burn at all, but solar and wind. Our basic energy formula has always been: Burn stuff. You burn less stuff, you get less asthma, less congestive heart failure and so forth. Less ozone pollution, too.

Chevy Volt's 230 mpg -- not a savior, just a step along the way

chevy-volt-logoThere's been a lot of virtual ooo-ing and ahh-ing about the Chevrolet Volt today after Chevy's announcement that it is expected to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon, under current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mileage-estimation procedures.
While there's no doubt that 230 mpg is a vast improvement over our current situation, there are several points to consider that may your temper enthusiasm for the Volt.
The first is its pricetag: $40,000. The second is its range: 32 to 40 miles without a charge. (But bear in mind that, at least according to Chevy, at 40 miles the Volt could transport more than three-fourths of America's daily commuters without using a single drop of gas. Impressive!)
Cupla relevant points:
  • The Volt reinforces something I've been saying for a while: When it comes to how Americans get around, it's probably going to be a lot more efficient to invent super-high-mileage personal cars than to persuade a large majority of Americans to use mass transit. Face it, we're car-centric. If we're going to head off climate catastrophe, seems like we need a technological solution, not a sociological one. And, hey, this is coming from a guy who rode the bus *and* Amtrak yesterday -- and hasn't had a commute longer than 4 miles in almost two decades. 
  • The Volt doesn't erase transportation's carbon footprint, just reduces it a lot.