OUCH! Fear Of Flying?

After you learn how $43.8 million in campaign contributions from aviation interests over the last eleven years have led Congress to consistently place the economic interests of the airline industry ahead of safety concerns, you may think twice about your next plane flight. That's the message of "In the Unlikely Event...The Politics of Airline Safety," the latest in a series of investigative reports by the Center for Public Integrity. The Center's study is full of worrisome revelations:* "Passenger seats in a commercial airline provide less protection than the average seat in a family car." The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended seventeen years ago that stronger seats be required in aircraft so people would have a better chance of escaping in survivable crashes. Congress told the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to mandate such a standard eleven years ago. But the air industry has successfully blocked its widespread implementation, using an exaggerated cost-benefit analysis that has been essentially endorsed by the FAA. Congress has never even held a hearing on the FAA-industry foot-dragging.* Each day, an estimated 10,000 children fly sitting on their parent or guardian's lap. They are the only cargo that is not securely restrained during takeoff and landing. Unfortunately, there is no way for an adult to hold onto a child during a crash. As one FAA expert admitted, "Schwarzenegger couldn't do it." But despite years of urging by the NTSB, the FAA has refused to require the use of safety seats for children and Congress has followed its lead.* While the FAA has finally moved to inspect hundreds of airliners for deteriorating wiring that can cause explosions like the one that destroyed TWA Flight 800, the Center's report shows that "the FAA--and Congress--had had ample warnings about the risk to airline passengers for more than a decade but had chosen not to act."Why this recurring pattern of Congressional inaction and lax oversight? Money talks. The number-one recipient of aviation boodle (more than $303,000 since 1987) is Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), the former chair of and current ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Asked by the Center why stronger seats haven't been mandated eleven years after legislation calling on the FAA to do so, he blithely cited the complexities of rule-making and cost-benefit analysis, adding "you can spend only so much time on a subject."In 1990, and again in the spring of 1993, Rep. Jim Lightfoot (R-IA), introduced legislation to require the use of child safety seats. Both times, his proposal didn't make it out of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee on Aviation. Eleven of the top twenty-five recipients of aviation campaign cash sit on that committee. Later, when Lightfoot's proposal came up on the House floor, Rep. Oberstar took the lead in killing it, where he was joined by the current chair of the transportation committee, Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA and recipient of $140,000 in aviation contributions since 1986).

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