As Mark Twain said, “Figures don’t lie…” Academic Paper on Aviation Safety has lots of figures

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Study: 105 million hours of productivity lost due to FAA electronic devices ban

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There are a number of critics of the OMB benefit cost analysis, which the FAA is mandated to perform as a predicate to the final adoption of any safety rule. Much of the debate centers around the “value” assigned in those calculations to human life and around the marginal costs associated with increasing standards with the current extraordinarily high safety performance.

The Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development of DePaul University now proposes a new factor to be incorporated in such evaluations—the hours of productivity lost while the FAA imposes a restriction designed to insure the aircraft navigational systems operate safely. The Chaddick analysts conclude that 105 million hours of productivity are being lost.

The academics did not attempt to quantify the potential risks, measured in lost lives, if an airplane’s navigational system is interrupted by the electronic emissions of the productive passengers using their Personal Electronic Devices.

The DePaul academics accuse the FAA of “going slow,” p. 11. They place higher values on productivity than safety. The FAA has tasked a group of safety experts, electrical engineers and PED consumer advocates to expeditiously determine if and how these instruments may be used safely on board. That forum will hear whether the cell phones, laptops and ereaders do interfere with the aircraft and determine how their use can be regulated, a tough issue subject to sophisticated debate.

The analytical value of the Chaddick study is subject to some technical questions. Here are but a few:

  • The study is based on 23 flights versus the US annual 9,226,947 scheduled flights or a 0.000249% sample. Hardly an adequate basis for projecting to a larger universe of all passengers.
  • There is no explanation of how the flight sample was randomly selected. If, for example, the flights were from Chicago to major metropolitan airports and return back to the school’s home, the numbers of business persons on board is likely to be higher than flights to vacation destinations.
  • There is no explanation of how the observers determined whether the passengers were using their PEDs for business/productive purposes rather than personal texting, playing games or reading a novel.
  • The observers assumed that all of the passengers on their flights complied with the FAA rules and did not use their PEDs below 10,000 feet.
  • Beyond the alleged “quantitative” observations, much of the paper is devoted to qualitative argument (i.e. pointing to a 0.8% rise in load factors, p.11, as a rational for allowing more PED use for entertainment as an offset for the crowded conditions).

The promotion associated with this scholarly “Tablets Take Flight” paper assures that the authors have sent their analysis to Aviation Rulemaking Committee on PEDs. It is not likely that the ARC will include this review in its decision basis, but will surely append it with the hundreds of other consumers who want PEDs without regard to the safety impacts of their use.

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