TV Report fails to ask the Right Questions about SFO safety; what’s FOIAble may not tell all that’s being done!

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ARTICLE: Frequent SFO Go-Arounds Point to Safety Concerns

The NBC Investigations team has filed the linked report based on FOIA requests trying to unearth NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System filings on “Go Around’s” at the San Francisco International Airport. Their analysis is that this maneuver is being performed at an “increasing” rate; “it’s not a plane crash, but it’s a close call” introduced the evening news segment.

The reporter talked to passengers, certified flight instructors, a “former” FAA AT manager, a pilot and other sources, but no current, knowledgeable FAA air traffic, airline or union spokespersons. Their on-air “experts” cast aspersions on foreign pilots, undue reliance on technology to fly the plane, new crossing runways and other factors. The station’s final conclusion is that SFO and the FAA should look into this discovery. Even that admonition was not directed to the people who are fixing the problem.

The ASRS numbers are fed into the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program and contained in that central source are these other sources of information about the aviation system:

  • ACAS (AirCraft Analytical System)
  • ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program)
  • ASDE–X (Airport Surface Detection Equipment–Model X)
  • ASPM (Airspace Performance Metrics)
  • ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System)
  • ATSAP (Air Traffic Safety Action Program)
  • FOQA (Flight Operational Quality Assurance)
  • METAR (Meteorological Aviation Report)
  • NFDC (National Flight Data Center)
  • NOP (National Offload Program office track data)
  • SDR (Service Difficulty Reports)
  • TFMS (Traffic Flow Management System)

The Air Traffic Organization and the airlines both have adopted an approach to dealing with issues BEFORE they become problems; its title is Safety Management Systems. The numbers discovered by NBS News are likely already known to the FAA ATO and the airlines.

The purpose of the SMS is to analyze the mass of data listed above and to discern trends as they emerge, like an increase in go arounds. Then a team–airline, unions, ATO and airport (which has no direct control over the airspace and the navigational tools and no relationship to the training of foreign pilots) —examines all potential contributors to the problem. Powerful statistical tools frequently focus the team’s attention. Here for example, in addition to the factors mentioned above, the team might examine SFO’s demanding meteorological conditions, the use of parallel simultaneous approaches and other possible culprits.

By choosing a set of people, who were not involved in today’s operations of the airport, NBC was sure to get answers which added to the theme of unsafe operations. If the newsmen would have asked the people involved in the SMS process, their intimation that the “sky is falling” would have been diminished. Most importantly for journalism, by going to the right source, they may have learned more about the solution being designed.

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