Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Friendly Skies

"Please take your seats We cannot take off until everyone is in their seats with their seat belts fastened". For over 100,000 people who intended to fly American Airlines yesterday, they never heard those words uttered. Today is to be more of the same.

Within the past several weeks, including the problems to be encountered today, there have been over 3000 scheduled flights that have been canceled. There have been hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted. People have scrambled to find hotels, or been compelled to sleep on the floor or in uncomfortable chairs at the airport. Every imaginable problem arising from an inability to get to one's destination on time has been encountered. And still, the cancellations continue .

The Federal Aviation Administration is in charge of making certain that our airplanes are safe to fly. Compliance with their regulations is a mandate that we, the public, take as a given. We are in an era where we are increasingly diligent for the threat of terrorism, where every 90 year old grandmother and 1 year old baby are subject to random search of their body to insure that all of us on each flight are going to reach our destination without issue. While every bottle we possess containing more than a certain amount of liquid must be shown and be subject to confiscation, we are given the impression that no stone is left unturned when it comes to protecting those on board. We are wrong.

Since the middle of last month, when the failures to inspect first came to light, we have seen the FAA propose a fine of over $10,000,000 on Southwest Airlines for flying planes that should not have been in the air until they were inspected, American Eagle Airlines forced to ground 25 regional jets until it insured the same met inspection requirements,and American and Delta Air Lines taking their MD-80 aircraft out of the air to make sure the wiring harnesses were all properly connected to a pump in the wheel well. A Federal investigation of the FAA resulted in a committee reprimand for its lax oversight and for its failure to heed whistle- blowers who reported problems with inspections.

The airlines continue to assure us that our safety has never been at risk. We are led to believe this is much ado about nothing, and are given a sense that all our lives have been needlessly interrupted. Yet we have to wonder why the FAA was asleep at the wheel. Is this just another scenario in which the administration's philosophy that any regulation is bad regulation has been evident? Like the financial markets, has oversight by the government to protect the best interest of its citizens, been ignored while disasters , or near disasters, are permitted to go unchecked?

The FAA has recently suspended a top flight safety regulator for American and Southwest Airlines. It appears to be trying to get its own house in order at this late date. We are all very thankful that its lack of focus to the task at hand has not resulted in the loss of lives.We would all hope that this attention to detail is now a given, and not an exception as we move forward. We have learned to expect delays , for reasons unknown, when we go to airports. We have accepted that each one of us is subject to intense scrutiny as we make sure the skies are safe for all of us to fly. What we did not expect, and cannot tolerate, is that we are left without wings due to the failure of our Federal regulators to do their jobs. For those now fuming over canceled flights and lost days of their lives, apologies for work badly done, or not done at all, just doesn't seem sufficient.


Anonymous said...

Comment system test. Yup, it works.

Anonymous said...

A coworker of mine spent last week in Hawaii. At the same time, Aloha airlines closed down. She spent 24 hours--what should have been about 8--trying to get back to Salt Lake City. Her husband did not arrive home until three days later.

Robert said...

I would like to say she was an exception, but she clearly wasn't. Hopefully things will get better in the near future.