Officials to consider safety of air shows

Planes fly over the San Francisco Bay ahead of their Fleet Week performance in San Francisco, Calif. Officials in Washington worry that some air shows are dangerous for spectators.

Jeremy Hobson: Well now to Washington, where the National Transportation Safety Board is holding a hearing today. Officials will be asking about the safety of daredevil events -- specifically, events like the air show in Reno, Nevada last September in which a World War II era plane crashed into a crowd of spectators, killing 11 people and injuring 70.

Marketplace's Bob Moon reports.


Bob Moon: Planes are supposed to fly mostly parallel to the grandstands at air shows, and not point directly at the crowd. But aviation attorney Mike Danko says it isn't the first time that rule has failed to keep spectators safe.

Mike Danko: The problem with that, which we should have known previously, is it doesn't work when an aircraft goes out of control. But that has happened in the past, so the FAA wasn't paying attention.

Danko says the Federal Aviation Administration has created a false impression that it carefully regulates the industry. Mostly, he says, the agency takes the word of air show organizers.

Danko: It would almost be better if the FAA backed out entirely, and then people would know that they're taking their chances.

Michael Barr is an aviation safety expert at the University of Southern California. He agrees regulators need to take a more active role, but points out there's no way to guarantee safety.

Michael Barr: Try to look at every single risk that can happen, you'll end up closing the air show -- you'll just stop all air shows.

More than 10 million people attend air shows in the U.S. every year, and until last year, there hadn't been any spectator fatalities since 1951.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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