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Head in the Sand Sightings-Air Safety Week
Head in the sand sightings

Every year the Ostriches Anonymous Association (OAA) recognizes the most obtuse statement coming out of the mouths of aviation industry officials that "deny, discount or ignore" a significant aviation risk. The intent of this effort is to improve air safety through greater application of common sense. Members submit "sightings," of which more than 60 were made in 2003. The member submitting the winning sighting will be recognized at the association's annual ball Feb. 27. Herewith, a sampling from the year just completed:

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson: Who reported that the agency had enough people to monitor maintenance at all airlines because "the cyclical nature of the aviation business" has conditioned the agency to deal with a number of troubled airlines at once. "We've been here before so there's nothing particularly extraordinary that would leave us unprepared." To put this in context, in the previous week 1) United Airlines [OTC: UALAQ] filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, and 2) an FAA inspectors union spokesperson estimated the need for 500 more inspectors to do the job right.

Airline security personnel: Who kept a pilot from his plane after a security agent said he smelled alcohol and mint on the pilot's breath. After passing a field sobriety test, he was taken away to the county jail where he was given a BAC [blood alcohol content] test, the results of which were 0.4 mg per 100 ml of blood, one-tenth the FAA's limit. Medical experts reported that the presence of 0.4 mg alcohol would easily be within the "clutter" around zero, and which could have been induced gargling with Listerine (13.5- proof).

Federal regulators: Whose decrees mandated that U.S. Marines flying to the Middle East on chartered airliners (to take the U.S. war on terrorism to the enemy) could not carry their knives in the cabin but could keep the M-16 rifles and M-60 machine guns with them.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman: Who responded to reports that the pilot of a crashed firefighting air tanker had expressed concerns about being "pushed" to fly planes of questionable structural integrity: "Whatever Steve was thinking about his equipment or pressures in his company was Steve's thing, not something the Forest Service was involved in."

FAA spokesperson: While agreeing with a Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT/IG) finding that 18 of 21 outside contractors of commercial airliners were using incorrect parts, improperly calibrated tools and outdated repair manuals, stressed that the report did not say passengers were in any danger.

Freight forwarding company CEO: Whose company booked a crate containing a man shipping himself as air freight: "The incident highlights the effectiveness of the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] known shipper program and how it is safeguarding American skies. The shipment in question was consigned to [our company], which rigidly complied with the known shipper program and routed the shipment to an all-cargo transport. The end result is that through our diligence, no passengers were placed at risk. Strict adherence to TSA regulations establishes that the government's procedures are effective." To this statement, the OAA remarked, "Of course, the 'known shipper' didn't know what/who was in the crate, either. Try explaining if he had popped out during flight, shot the crew, and flown the plane into downtown Pittsburgh, or Memphis."

Airline spokesperson: Who said, noting that all twin-engine airplanes are certified by the FAA to fly on one engine if necessary, "While it may be a little bit alarming for a passenger to see the propeller stop, at no time did we compromise their safety." This statement was made in reaction to one of the company's aircraft returning to the same field twice because of engine problems.

FAA spokesperson: Who said, "Any time there's a fire, there's a concern to us, but cracked windshields rarely affect the safety of the aircraft," after an electrical short in the windshield heater on a B777 caused it to crack violently at cruise altitude over the North Atlantic, accompanied by a cockpit fire (extinguished by the crew).

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