NASA hijacks air safety data
* * *
Actually lots of folks were probably surprised to learn that NASA gathered air safety data from pilots. But even more surprising than that revelation were reports the space agency withheld its pilot survey data then dissed a request under the Freedom of Information Act made by the Associated Press seeking the aviation safety records. (I admit I didn't know NASA even spoke to commercial airline pilots. I might have mistakenly filed that FOIA request with FAA, not NASA. Things you don't learn in law school. Come to think of it, the FAA is big into space these days, so the bureaucratic turf lines can get a bit confusing. Although FAA regulates commercial not civil space and doesn't much mess with NASA's business.)
In any case, I will weigh in with everyone (see e.g. the New York Times editorial this morning) calling for the agency to release the goods. Really. An almost four-year $8.5 million safety survey of approximately 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots who were interviewed by NASA for 30 minutes each, the results of which revealed "at least twice as many bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show"? (FAA isn't so sure.) And NASA wants to keep this to itself and worse, has requested the contractor on the project to delete the data from its computers? Come on.
There is no valid reason to deny the FOIA requests. Even Mike Griffin disagrees with his agency's rationale. Let's review NASA's own FOIA regulations (14 CFR Part 1206). AP has. Must Congress schedule a public hearing on this issue and possibly issue subpoenas? Apparently it must.
Worse, of course: now the public finds itself wondering what other information NASA might be withholding regarding its own awesome and dangerous flying machines and risky space business if the agency is willing to go out of its way to cover up safety and mishap data on silly airplanes. Yikes.