Thursday, May 27, 2010

U.S. Airlines: Now with Stars Upon Thars ...

If you happen to be one of those fine people we call AVSIG Members you may now read, rate, and comment on U.S. airlines in our Airline Travel section. Our goal is to provide some guidance on specific U.S. major air carriers with the understanding that there is no magic numerical means of differentiating among carriers that share the lowest accident rates in the industry.

Statistically speaking we have been at a happy place with U.S. domestic carrier accident rates for some time now.

But browse our Accident & Incident listings and you will find major carriers making emergency landings each week. Smoke odors in the cabin. Hydraulic leaks. Miscellaneous warning lights. These unscheduled landings are service failures to some, indicators of ill-maintained aircraft to others, and proactive caution to others yet. You will also see accounts of hard landings, gear lock failures, and security breaches. Pilots who miss Minneapolis. Indicators of perfection sought but never gained in some cases and loudly-chirping canaries in coal mines in others.

Links to the A&I listings are provided for each carrier (currently requiring a manual CTRL+F search in your browser, as our forum's UBB search engine su ... well ... remains a cruel joke) but we think there's always more to reading the tea leaves of major air carrier safety culture than just these events.

We believe FAA fines for unspoken but institutionalized revenue-over-caution policies like deferred maintenance/inspection and outed-by-strong-headwinds low-fuel airport diversions mean something too.

And if you're flying the typical U.S. hub-and-spoke carrier we believe it's also useful to consider your chances of being sent to Chicago in January on BigBox Airlines Connection Operated by You Ain't Never Heard of Us Airlines ... where your working-up-to-the-big-leagues low-pay pilot may have only just recently gotten off his or her wait shift at Red Lobster.

We've made For and Against comments that we hope you find helpful, except in cases where they're not helpful. (Not every airline has a compelling "for" or "against" attribute. In recognition of the fact, never mind that aviation safety is serious business, we've here and there slipped some throwaway lines in, since it's so hard for you to (actually) hurl tomatoes at us via the internet). We'll be counting on the AVSIG braintrust to add insight to this project along the way.

Wishing you safe and happy travel this summer ...

M.O.

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