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Should Fliers Be More Wary of Airplane Safety?

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The reason why all those American Airlines planes are grounded? It's the way some wires are bundled in the MD-80 aircraft. Federal safety inspectors say it is possible the wires could short circuit or even catch fire.

ALEX COHEN, host:

The mechanic I just spoke with, Steve MacFarlane, thinks that's a big problem. That's one perspective. We wanted to hear another.

BRAND: So we called John Goglia, he's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, he's now an independent safety consultant, and John Goglia, welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN GOGLIA (Safety Consultant): Thank you for having me.

BRAND: First of all, let's talk about this particular problem, about the bundled wires. Is that a big safety concern, do you think?

Mr. GOGLIA: It's a violation of the rules because they didn't follow the procedures to the letter, however, the issue that everybody is focused on would not cause an impending or immediate danger to any flight. In fact, it would be likely that these airplanes could fly for years and no one would ever know the difference.

BRAND: So, do you think that there's an overreaction happening?

Mr. GOGLIA: No question that there's an overreaction. And it's unfortunate that the entire FAA is being painted so poorly because of the actions of so few people in one region. Overall, the job that the FAA does is excellent, and look at the record that we've amassed since 9/11. I mean, the record is impeccable, we've had programs in place like the Voluntary Disclosure, which I might remind everybody is what started all this, so, I mean, the systems that we've worked so hard to put in place over the last ten years are in fact working. They've driven the accident rate down into the cellar, and it's crazy what we're doing. It's almost like we're going to kill a successful program.

BRAND: However, some would say better safe than sorry, and so you need to ground thousands of flights well, that's the price you have to pay to just make double sure that the aircraft are safe.

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, I would agree that all our actions should be conservative and for the most part they are. When in doubt, put it down. And that's what we've done here. But I don't think we're in doubt any longer after the first - let's talk about the MD80s, and we're on the first round of putting these down, there was no doubt that the work was done. Having worked for years and years on those airplanes in that very wheel-well on those very bundles, I think this is a non-issue.

BRAND: What about some other issues? Are there any? Are there any graver safety concerns you have for the industry as a whole?

Mr. GOGLIA: My real concern right now is that we're going to kill these voluntary programs, and we're going to reverse the good work that the FAA has done.

BRAND: Be more specific, if you will. What do you mean by the volunteer?

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, when an airline - an individual or an airline finds something that they don't like, they come forward to the FAA and say hey, we've got a problem. And it may be an imaginary problem, it may not be real, but we're looking at this, and we found this, or one of our people has reported that this process didn't work for them.

BRAND: Well now, the whole problem with Southwest is that they didn't do that, and actually told one of the workers at Southwest not to report it to the FAA.

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, that's why they're faced with the actions that they're faced with. But - and just the opposite with American Airlines. They did find it in concert with the FAA, and they ended up putting the airplanes down, working through it. Ten years ago we didn't have that link. We didn't have the ability for a pilot to say you know, I'm flying this procedure, and I was going into San Francisco, and I had a problem. And instead of going after him for busting the rule, we'll take a look at the procedure. And there have been tons of procedures that have been changed as a result of those kinds of reports. We've got a ways to go, but it has driven many, many improvements.

BRAND: But why are you concerned that that's now going to go away?

Mr. GOGLIA: Because comments by some of our political leaders on the Hill that they didn't like this cooperation between the FAA and the industry, and the only way we would get that information is through those cooperative programs.

BRAND: You mean that the two have gotten too cozy?

Mr. GOGLIA: Well, that's the allegation.

BRAND: Right.

Mr. GOGLIA: I would not agree with that across the board.

BRAND: John Goglia, thanks for joining us.

Mr. GOGLIA: Thank you for having me.

BRAND: That's John Goglia. He's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, now an independent safety consultant. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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