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Should Airline Safety Ratings Be More Available?

The Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney posted two interesting pieces this week—one column and one blog entry—about the difficulty of finding airline safety data. "You can check fares, fees and flight schedules for just about any airline in the world with a few keystrokes or a single phone call," he writes in his column, "but checking the safety of an international airline is a much more complicated task."

Both the U.S. and E.U. use complex and mostly secret systems to evaluate airline safety. However, the outcome of that evaluation—what we, the flying public, can see—tells us little about a particular carrier's safety performance. This is what we know:

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The E.U. has a blacklist of banned carriers around the world, 233 in total. The U.S., by contrast, evaluates countries, not carriers, based on each country's safety inspection program. Countries with programs that meet the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) standards are considered a Category 1. Countries that don't are put in Category 2. Category 2 countries are not banned, but new service to the U.S. is frozen, as are any passenger-sharing agreements, making Category 2 status more like a sanction. The E.U. lists 15 countries with a "blanket ban," which means all of that nation's carriers are on the blacklist.

Which is all well and good, except there's little one can say about a carrier or country beyond "it's blacklisted" or "it's a Category 2." McCartney writes that "the FAA won't discuss specific reasons why a country is listed in Category 2 except to say all assessments are fact-based evaluations. In the case of Israel, which is Category 2, aviation-industry officials say that U.S. concerns relate to air-traffic-control routings for passenger jets at some Israeli airports that don't meet international standards."

It's clear that these ratings give us little usable information regarding a carrier's safety record. As travelers, would you like access to more detailed reports on your preferred carrier? What about its maintenance record, or pilot experience record? Or is this too much information for the average passenger to know what to do with? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.  

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