View Full Version : Airline Safety Data Activist
The New York Times today has an article about Bonnie Rind, who lost her brother in the One-Two-Go accident in Phuket. Ms. Rind has been active in trying to get data about airline safety records into the public domain, where prospective passengers can refer to it, as well as trying to encourage more active oversight by regulators and concerned NGOs.
I generally support efforts to make safety, and safety records, more publically transparent, not least because of the difference, researched over decades by people such as Arnold Barnett of MIT, between general accident rates of airlines that operate in areas of the world which one may deem more safety-transparent, and those which operate elsewhere. The difference in rates is one or two orders of magnitude. Some of the practices uncovered through the work of Ms. Rind show in no small measure why this may be.
The acticle on Ms. Rind and her efforts is at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/24/business/24safety.html. It may be that one has to be registered with the NYT WWW site to view it. (The NYT site does allow a few copies to be e-mailed, so if I know an e-mail address I can forward a copy - but that does require that one send me the e-mail address - I am e-mail-able through PPRuNe).
Threads on PPRuNe concerned with the accident are
FAA knew Thailand deficient july 07 but never informed traveling public (http://www.pprune.org/airlines-airports-routes/349686-faa-knew-thailand-deficient-july-07-but-never-informed-traveling-public.html) , MD80 plane crash Phuket Sep 07 (http://www.pprune.org/airlines-airports-routes/292331-md80-plane-crash-phuket-sep-07-a.html) , Phuket air safety issues (http://www.pprune.org/rumours-news/309372-phuket-air-safety-issues.html) , and One-Two-Go grounded (http://www.pprune.org/rumours-news/334980-one-two-go-grounded.html) . There may be others.
I note from the NYT article that Ms. Rind runs a WWW site investigateudom.com , whose name is homophonic with a very active PPRuNe contributor to the threads above. If you are here, well done, Ms. Rind!
24th Aug 2010, 22:35
I think it must be one and the same lady who is the subject of the NYT article and who posts here under the moniker 'investigateudom'. I salute Ms. Rind's persistence in the face of institutional corruption and incompetence and her courage in pursuing the truth of her brother's tragic death.
Aviation could use many more such people as Ms. Rind. In the course of trying to complete my degree I have encountered the most astonishing difficulty in obtaining reliable, consistent accident data, or even copies of investigation reports. These documents ought to be public records, and the fact that there is not a systematised publically accessible archive where they may be freely consulted is a shaming indictment of ICAO's lofty and oft-stated aims of agitating for the liberalisation (if you will) of safety related data in aviation.
25th Aug 2010, 01:51
Thank you. It's a good article.
In the course of trying to complete my degree I have encountered the most astonishing difficulty in obtaining reliable, consistent accident data, or even copies of investigation reports.
Welcome to the club. Since you say you are in London, and I take it you are doing a degree in aerospace, I guess you must be at City? A frequent contributor to accident discussions here, DozyWannabe, was also at City, and we have an ex-colleague (sadly now deceased) in common.
Let me pass on some pointers towards a few data sources, and report compendiums.
Aviation Safety Network, run by Hanno Ranter and now part of the Flight Safety Foundation, is a very useful source of accident data. He also does a very good job of linking to those reports which are public.
My colleague Robert Dorsett spent considerable effort digitising a mass of accident reports over the years, and distributed them on CD. I believe they are now free. You can check out Aircraft Accident Reports on DVD-ROM (http://www.fss.aero/accident-reports/index.php) . Note to mods: this is not a commercial advertisement. Robert is quite well known in the accident-discussion community and the founder of a well-known avionics&safety mailing list, which is a couple of decades old. His collection is the result of an admirable pro bono sensibility, and the result of years of work.
You can also check out our by now less than comprehensive collection at AG RVS - Computer-Related Incidents with Commercial Aircraft (http://www.rvs.uni-bielefeld.de/publications/compendium/) . It is getting hard to keep up with all digital-automation-related accidents, and we have our day jobs to do. But maybe we'll get a private grant soon, to have someone bring it up to date. Trouble is, I write most commentary myself and I am more than loaded down with writing tasks at the moment.
I also find Flight International's annual Safety Review invaluable. It appears in print sometime in January each year, and is for the last couple of years also on their WWW site, http://www.flightglobal.com/ , somewhere under "Safety".
For U.S. NTSB reports, the Embry-Riddle Hunt Library Collection (http://library.erau.edu/worldwide/find/online-full-text/ntsb/aircraft-accident-reports.htm) contains many from before the electronic-document era which they digitised.
These documents ought to be public records
Try telling that to the member states of ICAO, and you will find the majority of that 180 or so do not agree. However, those (few) states which do consider them to be public records mostly do have WWW sites on which they appear. I only know, randomly, of one exception (Colombia; as far as I know, they don't have a WWW site for accident investigations. I obtained my copy of the 1995 AA CFIT accident report through the U.S. NTSB. We digitised it and it's on our site, as well as linked from ASN.)
the fact that there is not a systematised publically accessible archive where they may be freely consulted is a shaming indictment of ICAO's lofty and oft-stated aims of agitating for the liberalisation (if you will) of safety related data in aviation.
The ICAO management does its best. But let's look at what you said: you really want to indict the aims? I think you probably meant to indict what you regard as the lack of achievement, and that, as I mentioned, is likely due to most members not agreeing on publishing the reports without restriction.
Just for comparison, the only intellectual enterprise of which I know which successfully maintains a repository of major documents is physics. They have one, for each major area (for example, particle physics is at SLAC). They also invented the WWW, although Sir Tim is now on the Southampton computer science faculty, I believe.
When one understands the political forces at work in the aftermath of aviation accidents (and I mean "political" in the broadest sense of interested human activity), then it is easy to see why things are not necessarily transparent. There are two main factors at play, as I see it. One is simply the scale of human organisation needed to organise and communicate. For example, here is a comment from the Washington Post, at NTSB Cites Pilot Error in 2001 N.Y. Crash (washingtonpost.com) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63850-2004Oct26_2.html) , on the difficulties with exchange of information:
The board voted to discuss developing more formal standards to have the FAA receive reports of overseas safety incidents that might help prevent similar incidents in the United States.
The issue arose after investigators said they were "disappointed" that Airbus and American were less than forthcoming in providing information about the rudder performance of another A300-600 involved in a non-fatal accident four years before Flight 587 crashed.
American alleged that Airbus withheld information about its rudder system in the 1997 incident, in which the plane stalled and its rudder was damaged; pilots regained control of that plane. The safety board ruled that incident was unrelated to the rudder-design issues raised by Flight 587.
But the board said it will address urging the FAA to develop a formal program to share information with other nations' safety agencies. "Unless everyone is forthcoming, it does hinder, and many times prevents us from doing the right thing at a much earlier stage," Rosenker said.
The other strand is, well, what is at stake. A major accident costs nine- to maybe ten-figure sums (mostly low-mid-nines). Someone has to pay. And whoever it is who ends up paying suffers a loss of reputation that may well cost at least that amount or more, over the years. With so much at stake, and so many different interests (and, believe me, the interests can be quite confusing and counter-intuitive), it is hardly surprising that some states are reluctant to go public with what is, very often, partial information collected and analysed with resources that are orders of magnitude less than what is "in play". For example, imagine the resources it took to retrieve and reassemble the hull of TWA 800 in the late 1990's, so that the Structures Group (chaired by Bob Swaim) could determine what really happened - and then go investigate the extent of problems with malfunctioning wiring on aging aircraft. Most countries simply do not have those resources, and without them, what is one going to say about a TW800-like happening? Do you plump for the rocket theories? For the EMI theories, proposed by a well-known Harvard English professor? You often can't get to the real reasons without real resources, and if you don't have those resources and you say something publically about cause, then that's the direction you're going to be sending the claims, like it or not - mostly not, I would think. It may be a difficult situation to swallow, but thorough, public reports are a luxury of countries with appropriate resources as well as the ability to protect those resources from other powerful interests. And most accidents don't happen in such countries (check ASN!).
Glad you saw my note, InvestigateUdom. You might like to contact me by e-mail.
26th Aug 2010, 21:11
Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a lengthy, detailed and helpful reply. I was previously aware of most of those sites (and have mined them) apart from your own, very interesting site. Nor had I found Mr. Dorsett's CD-Rom which I will now order.
If you are aware of any papers, reports, theses, articles, journals, books - anything at all - which examin the safety impacts of aircraft operating leasing, I would be most grateful if you could steer me in the right direction. I am prinicpally interested in dry leasing - wet leasing I don't think of as leasing as it does not generally entail the separation of ownership from operation of the asset (at least not in a full ACMI context).
Thank you again for your considered response to my hastily dashed off note - you were of course right that I was decrying the failure of ICAO to deliver on its stated aims, and not the aims themselves.
Incidentally - where can I find a good, moderately detailed book on WBA? Fascinating stuff you do.
I'm glad you're interested in WBA. The home pages need updating, since quite a lot has happened recently. The reference to the book section there, though, is still as up-to-date as we are. There is what I now consider to be a better intro, devised after lengthy experience with our industry tutorials and uni courses, based on the first item in the tutorial casebook (which is not yet publically available). This blog post (http://www.abnormaldistribution.org/2010/08/27/malware-and-the-august-2008-madrid-spanair-take-off-accident/) contains links to some of this material.