FAA, ValuJet challenge consumer group's airline safety ratings
July 1, 1997
Web posted at: 6:21 p.m. EDT (2221 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sources at both the Federal Aviation Administration
and the National Transportation Safety Board are expressing concern about the
statistics used to rate airlines in a "report card" released by the Air Travelers Association, a new consumer group.
The report card rates 260 airlines worldwide based on their number of
fatal accidents over the past ten years. It fails 29 of them, including one U.S. carrier, ValuJet.
The FAA said the method the Air Travelers Association used to establish its ratings is flawed. "Fatal accidents are such infrequent events, that for statistical purposes of rating airline safety, it just doesn't work," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.
Experts: 'Fender benders' may be a better indicator of safety
NTSB sources agreed, adding that numerous non-fatal accidents occur on
airlines each year, while on average there are only one-and-a-half or two
catastrophic accidents a year.
Some safety experts believe those non-fatal "fender benders" are a better
indicator of the overall safety of an airline than the rare fatal crash.
The FAA cited excerpts of a recent report prepared for the agency by
GRA, Inc., on the public's interest in aviation safety data:
"While there may be apparent differences in carrier safety records at any
particular time, due largely to the infrequent but catastrophic nature of an
air accident, there is no evidence that such distinctions persist nor that they
are predictive of future safety performance. Rankings of airlines based on
past accident records therefore provide no information to consumers seeking to
make safety-enhancing comparisons for current or future travel choices."
On February 28, the FAA launched an internet page with accident and
incident data on airlines, but has refused to rate the safety of individual
Ed Segal, of the Air Travelers Association, had little to say about the
agencies' concerns, though he said consumers shouldn't see the report card as an indication of the future safety of airlines. "This is not a predictor of the
future. We're just using data to evaluate airlines' safety history over the
last ten years."
Air Travelers Association founder David Stempler has openly criticized the FAA. He said his membership-funded group was formed because of "the failure of the FAA to provide for the safety of airlines."
"Passengers need to be wary of a few bad apples," he said.
ValuJet challenges failing rating
Atlanta-based ValuJet is also challenging the safety report. According to the Air Travelers Association, of the 29 U.S. air carriers the group rated, 28 got A's with the only F going to ValuJet.
The low-fare airline was grounded last year after one of its planes plunged into the Florida Everglades, killing 105 people.
"What happened to ValuJet could have happened to any other carrier," said
ValuJet spokeswoman Marcia Scott. "To reach a conclusion that we had an
accident not the result of our procedures ... to presume that is indicative of
our operations is irresponsible."
Scott said the Association's methods were skewed because ValuJet, which
has been in business only three years was compared with airlines with thousands
of takeoffs over a 10 year period.
"When you say there is one fatal accident over 150,000 takeoffs, which is
what we've had over the last three years, it looks bad," said Scott. "But they
have given an A rating to an airline with six fatal accidents. We don't think
things add up."
CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.
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