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NASA sorry over air safety uproar

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 31, 2007
The head of NASA on Wednesday said he was sorry the agency refused to release a major survey of commercial aviation safety, on the grounds it might scare passengers and hit airline profits.

After an uproar, NASA administrator Michael Griffin promised to release the report, reportedly showing that near misses, runway incursions and bird strikes take place at least twice the rate as commonly thought.

"The survey results which can be legally released will be released, period," said NASA administrator Michael Griffin told a hearing of the House of Representatives Science and Technology committee.

The hearing was called after NASA initially justified its refusal to release the survey, arguing it could "affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of the air carriers and general aviation companies."

Griffin said he did not agree with the justification for withholding the report, based on the testimony of 24,000 pilots.

"I regret any impression that NASA was in any way trying to put commercial aviation interests ahead of public safety. That was not and never will be the case."

But Griffin said that the material could not be released immediately for legal reasons, because it identified airlines, airports, models of aircraft and individual pilots who had been promised anonymity.

He said the data needed to peer reviewed and checked, and warned he did not want airline passengers to be misled by findings that engine failures for instance, may be more prevalent than reported by US authorities.

"It is simply not credible to believe that the aviation community is experiencing nearly four times the number of engine failures that are being documented by the FAA. (Federal Aviation Administration)," he said.

"I would not like the flying public to believe the data in (the form in) which it appears today."

Griffin said an initial release of data could take place before the end of the year.

The survey, known as the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (NAOMS), was the product of a commission under former vice president Al Gore in the mid 1990s after a spate of civilian airline crashes.

As well as its more high-profile involvement in the US space program, NASA (North American Aeronautics and Space Administration) is also tasked with improving air travel and making it safer.

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Airbus superjumbo makes first commercial flight
Aboard The Airbus A380 (AFP) Oct 25, 2007
Loaded with champagne, caviar and excited passengers from around the world, the biggest airliner ever built touched down in Australia on Thursday after its first commercial flight.

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