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Congress Demands Release of Air Safety Data


American news media are reporting that a survey of pilots by the U.S. government found that safety problems involving air carriers happen more frequently than previously known. The reports say the space agency, NASA, conducted the survey, but did not publish the results over fears they could affect public confidence in air travel. Some lawmakers are accusing the government of trying to suppress the results because they might hurt airline profits -- a charge NASA firmly denies. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

The reports say NASA spent three years developing the questionnaire and three years interviewing 24,000 pilots. But after completing the $8.5 million survey last year, the space agency allegedly refused to publish its results and asked everyone associated with the project to delete their files.

"I was flabbergasted by that," said Jon Krosnick, a professor at Stanford University. He helped develop the survey after speaking with pilots. "What they said to us over and over again was that lots of things go wrong that they believe increase the risk of accidents – that could be cheaply and easily solved."

The survey reportedly uncovered numerous safety problems from near misses, runway interference, to engine failures. A NASA document obtained by Associated Press says, "The release of the data could affect public confidence and hurt the commercial welfare of air carriers."

But Democratic Party Congressman Brad Miller says that is not for the space agency to decide. "It is part of NASA's job to make sure aviation is safe. It is not NASA's job to make airline travelers think that everything is fine or to protect airline profits."

Congress has launched a formal investigation. Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon says NASA has been ordered to keep all of its data. "This is a matter of safety,” he said. “We need to know that information, the American public needs to know that information."

The Federal Aviation Administration says it played no role in trying to suppress the information. FAA acting administrator Robert Sturgell stated, "We are always interested in safety data and the analysis and mining of aviation safety data."

NASA administrators have assured Congress the data will not be destroyed, but the agency says it will determine what information, if any, can be released.