Saturday, January 29, 2011

Airline Safety Rankings Like Baloney All Flavor - No Substance

My middle-school teacher Paul Wesche once told me that the word assume could be broken down to into three parts ass – u – me, as in -  to assume is to make an ass out of you and me. The truth behind this clever wordplay was made abundantly clear in the article just published by U.S. News and World Report, America’s Safest Airlines

Look, I know that everything associated with the word “airline” is out-of-control sexy, and that the fact that US airlines have completed a year of fatality-free flying is frustrating for journalists who see the airlines as a source of juicy news when they are

a) crashing airplanes
b) annoying passengers and
c) embarrassed by the antics of pilots and/or flight attendants.


I could rest my case by writing that the article’s author, Hamooda Shami’s last venture into the world of air travel journalism resulted in  America’s Meanest Airlines, but that would be too easy.

Anyway, in this latest endeavor to capitalize on the fact that airline articles are a search engine optimization jackpot on par with Bradgelina, U.S. News has produced an article based on the premise that by counting up airline safety incidents and dividing by the number of flights, the consumer can accurately gauge how safe is a specific airline. That this is nonsense is even implied in the article itself when Mr. Shami writes the incidents used in calculating this safety ranking “should be taken with a serious grain of salt.” Fourteen hundreds words on the subject is enough salt to season  a lot of baloney, (Coincidence? I think not!) Nevertheless, as an aviation writer seeking to uphold the reputation of aviation writers everywhere, I feel compelled to point out that this article has holes of logic through which we could route the entire fleet of Airbus A380s.
Photo courtesy of Airbus
Mr. Shami limited his mathematical analysis to major US carriers, excluding regional airlines from his calculations even though they are responsible for moving one in four air travelers in the United States and responsible for 100% of the eleven airline crashes since 2000.

If this weren’t caveat enough, the article then goes on to say that in doing the math Mr. Shami is going to include only those incidents in which the “airlines were at fault.” Say what? The National Transportation Safety Board employs upwards of 90 scientists and engineers to determine probable cause, but one reporter has read, digested and analyzed a year’s worth of airline incident reports and come away with 305 incidents in which he has determined fault lies with the airline? Fast work Mr. Shami! I’m exhausted at the very thought.

Even having excluded the “airline-blame-free incidents” from the calculus, he can’t resist the urge to tell us the details of some of them. Two American Airlines turbulence events and a Continental near-collision are described as Mr. Shami justifies American’s (7) and Continental’s (4) position on his list.

There, there, there, airline executives, I know you're grimacing at my even mentioning these numbers but don’t get your shorts in a bunch. The safety ranking collapses under the weight of its own  moronic conclusions.  Have no fear for your reputations. If there’s anyone who should be worried, its the editors at U.S. News. They've risked the magazine's well-established reputation for careful list making by attaching its name to this dreck.

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