James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Safety or Compliance?

If there was a federal Football Safety Administration, you can imagine it would prevent a team fromm playing if their helmets had no chinstraps. But the players would refuse to play without this gear anyway. Why, then, would we even need a Football Safety Administration?

And what if the Football Safety Administration prevented a team from playing, not because their helmets were defective, but because the players didn't wear knee-high socks? Because they were in violation of a rule that had nothing to do with safety? There would be an uproar - but does the fault lie with the football team failing to comply, or with the Football Safety Administration for imposing unnecessary rules?

That's the analogy that came to mind from news that American Airlines has cancelled thousands of flights this week in order to make their planes conform to Federal Aviation Administration standards. Other airlines are following suit.

The question is, are the airlines doing this to make the planes safe, or just to conform to unnecessary regulations?

A plane crash is the worst possible p.r. for an airline complany. No matter how much they may be insured, it is never in their interest to fly with dangerous flaws in their planes.

So the question is, are the FAA regulations necessary? Can the regulations make a plane any more safe than the airline would already want it to be? And if the regulations have not to do with safety but merely with uniformity or some other reason, is American Airlines canceling flights to protect the public or only to avoid fines? Either way, I can't blame them. I just wonder why regulations are necessary to begin with.

I confess I haven't followed the issue aside from what the nightly news says, nor do I know anything about airplance mechanics. But I wonder if the lax compliance and enforcement at Southwest and other airlines had more to do with the airline and administrators coming to an understanding that many regulations were a) unnecessary, and b) too expensive to comply with. If either the FAA or the airline ever knowingly put passengers at risk, that is horrible - but with several airlines already going bankrupt, what airline would knowingly put its passengers at risk?

Unfortunately, the bad press has forced the hand of the FAA. I sure hope the fixes on their planes really are necessary. Otherwise, hundreds of thousands of passengers are getting screwed for no reason other than that the FAA has to save face.

1 comment:

  1. The inspections were the result of an "Airworthiness Directive" issued by the FAA in 2006. That Airworthiness Directive (or AD) was the result of an incident where the wiring in the front wheel well of a MD-80 overheated, began smoking and smoke filled the cockpit during flight. The plane was able to land safely with no injuries. Thus, the AD was issued to ensure that the wiring problem was not widespread.

    Were the chances great that this sort of thing would happen again? Probably not, but one crash is one crash too many. The problem here is that the FAA moved from one end of the spectrum - cozying up to the airlines - to the other - demanding immediate compliance. It was the FAA's fault that it did not demand compliance earlier (and the airlines for not complying), but the FAA's actions seem to be the result of a petulant child who is upset for being rapped on the knuckles by a teacher.