Last year NASA failed to release useful data from its study on aviation safety, which the agency thought would undermine public confidence. Another study at least shows that mishaps caused by pilot error among U.S. carriers declined between 1983 and 2002. The analysis, by Susan P. Baker of Johns Hopkins University and her colleagues, traced the gains to improved training and crew communication as well as to advanced technology that provides more accurate data on such variables as aircraft position and rough weather. The overall mishap rate has remained steady, however, perhaps because of increased mistakes by ground personnel and air-traffic controllers, who must handle many more flights than in the past.

TOTAL MISHAPS ANALYZED IN STUDY: 558

MISHAPS CAUSED BY PILOT ERROR: 180

MISHAPS FROM OTHER CAUSES: 378

PILOT ERROR MISHAPS PER 10 MILLION FLIGHTS IN:

1983–1987: 14.2

1998–2002: 8.5

DECLINE IN PILOT ERROR MISHAPS PER 10 MILLION FLIGHTS RELATED TO:

FLAWED DECISIONS: FROM 6.2 TO 1.8

POOR CREW INTERACTION: FROM 2.8 TO 0.9

MISHANDLED WIND OR RUNWAY CONDITIONS: FROM 2.5 TO 0.54

SOURCE: Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, January 2008