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Airline safety study to be made public

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KAI RYSSDAL: Up on Capitol Hill today, the head of NASA promised to release results of a six-year-long study of airline safety. Micheal Griffin has changed his mind. Up until now, he’s declined to let the public to see a survey of pilots that reportedly finds there have been many more near-collisions between aircraft — both in the air and on the ground — than has previously been revealed.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.

John Dimsdale: By some reports, this survey of 24,000 pilots finds near-collisions happen twice as often as official statistics. In turning down a Freedom of Information request to release the survey, filed last year by the Associated Press, NASA said the results would upset air travelers and threaten airline profits.

Today, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said he didn’t write that, and doesn’t agree with it.

Michael Griffin: And I regret any impression that NASA was or would in any way try to put commercial interests ahead of public safety.

Griffin says the data will be released as soon as information identifying the participating pilots can be taken out — the pilots were guaranteed anonymity. When the survey comes out, near the end of the year, Griffin asked people not to give it too much credence.

Griffin: 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. So I would not want the flying public to believe the data in the form that it appears today.

But Paul Rinaldi with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says he can believe it.

Paul Rinaldi: We have a system that’s in a downward spiral at this time. We have less controllers working more airplanes. The system is stretched thin, it’s stretched very thin.

NASA’s administrator says the survey was completed in 2004 and he can find no compelling reason to continue it.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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