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Agencies seek to resolve air-safety flap
March 7, 2011
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    Andy Pasztor


    aviation regulators and accident investigators both appear to be searching for

    ways to resolve a previously reported dispute over who should have access to

    safety data that airlines voluntary provide to the government, according to federal

    and industry officials.


    weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation

    Safety Board have sparred over what information board investigators should gain

    access to regarding safety lapses by U.S. airlines over the years. The NTSB has

    sought such material, previously voluntarily disclosed by airlines and pilots,

    as part of its ongoing probe of an American Airlines Boeing 757 jetliner that

    ran off the end of a runway last December in Jackson Hole, Wyo.


    was hurt, but safety board investigators are looking into why certain panels on

    top of the wings failed to automatically deploy as usual to help slow the

    plane. The board also wants to determine why the panels, sometimes called speed

    brakes or spoilers, weren’t manually deployed as safety and operational rules

    typically require.


    Corp.’s American Airlines unit has declined to comment on precisely what



    final compromise about the data at issue, these people said, is likely to take

    some time and could still end up being blocked by strong feelings in both

    camps. The bureaucratic, inside-the-Beltway flap has potentially important

    policy implications, however, because it could set a precedent about the scope

    of the safety board’s activities in the future.


    board’s chairman has talked about getting broad access to incident data

    historically off-limits to NTSB accident investigators.


    FAA and industry officials, on the other hand, worry that such a policy

    reversal could chill collection of voluntary safety data. In return for

    obtaining a steady stream of voluntary safety data, FAA officials for more than

    a decade have promised they typically won’t use the disclosures to punish or

    publicly embarrass airlines or pilots.


    several industry and government officials initially said the board wanted full

    access to specific incident data, others familiar with the matter recently said

    the NTSB’s official request is for “summary data” that doesn’t

    identify specific flights or demand other data that could result in public

    disclosure of mistakes previously reported by individual carriers or pilots.


    FAA, for its part, initially reacted coolly to the board’s request, with some

    agency officials hinting they were poised to reject it. But last week,

    government officials clarified the latest status and tenor of the fluid

    discussions. The FAA, according to these officials, has stopped short of

    formally making any decision, referring the issue instead to a high-level group

    of industry and government safety experts.


    board wants the historical information to determine trends about safety system

    malfunctions and pilot mistakes that led to runway incidents similar to the

    Wyoming event.


    far, the board hasn’t officially indicated what theories it is pursuing in the

    American AIrlines incident.


    officials have declined to comment on the agency’s position.


    recently, the FAA’s discussions with the safety board became less tense and

    more cordial, according to several people close to the developments.


    current sense is that with some common sense and care, this can be worked out

    to everyone’s satisfaction,” according to one veteran government expert

    familiar with the details.

    Date: 2011-03-07