The government — more specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration — thinks that you should be protected, for your own good, from your tendency towards irrational panic.
See, in the wake of this year's miraculous post-bird-strike Hudson River crash landing — or, as the airline industry prefers to call it, "unscheduled indefinite layover" — there's been a lot of curiosity about how often this sort of things happen. How many bird strikes are there every year? How often do they impede a flight? Are they on the rise? Has Tippi Hedren been warned?
Surely our public servants at the FAA have some information for us about such things. May we have it, please?
Last Thursday, the FAA quietly published its proposal to keep the data secret in the Federal Register, a dry compendium of rules and proposals the government publishes daily.
The agency based its proposal on the assumption that the industry it regulates is more concerned about its image and profits than about the safety of its passengers.
"The agency is concerned that there is a serious potential that information related to bird strikes will not be submitted because of fear that the disclosure of raw data could unfairly cast unfounded aspersions on the submitter," the FAA said in the Federal Register.
See, we'd give you the information, but you just wouldn't be fair about it. It's your fault, really.
Now, you would think that the FAA operates on a free information and market theory principle that underlies our capitalistic system, under which consumers, fully informed, can make risk assessments and choose airlines accordingly, and thus reward safer airlines and punish more dangerous airlines.
The FAA thinks that's all bullshit.
The FAA is particularly worried that the public will compare the data on various airports. "Drawing comparisons between airports is difficult because of the unevenness of reporting," it said. Not only do some airports do a better job than others of reporting strikes, they also face different challenges based on the bird habitats in their areas, the agency said.
"Inaccurate portrayals of airports and airlines could have a negative impact on their participation in reporting bird strikes," FAA added.
Of course, consumer data will always have reporting flaws and perverse incentives. Part of the process of being an informed decision-maker is learning to detect and account for such deficiencies. But the FAA doesn't think we can be trusted to take such problems into account, doesn't think we should be allowed to see the raw data with appropriate caveats. The FAA does not think that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. The FAA, rather, thinks that we can't handle the truth — not a truth about national security, but a truth about how many geese got pulverized by jet engines last year. It's not entirely clear if the FAA realizes that it's American. It's attitude sounds more Soviet to me.
The FAA has its own database of this information. It's a database created with my tax money, containing information gathered using my tax money, maintained by employees paid with my tax money, their fat civil-servant asses bechaired with my tax money.
I want my data.
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