Joe McKendry

the aviation safety reporting system, a branch of nasa, is probably the most important contributor to aviation safety you’ve never heard of. Every day, more than 200 reports of near-miss incidents flow into its office at Moffett Field, in California, down the road from Google’s headquarters. Anonymity is central to the system; incident reporters need to know that their honesty will not get them disciplined or sued. ASRS highlights the most-interesting reports in a monthly newsletter, “Callback,” available to anyone on the Internet. The reports can be hair-raising, all the more so for their candor: “When you consider the congested airspace in that area, it’s critical that you don’t turn the wrong way after takeoff, but that’s exactly what we did. Why we did that, I don’t know,” reads one. Another pilot described how he was showing his iPad to a fellow pilot and taxied past the spot where he was supposed to stop on the runway “until Ground said, ‘Stop. Stop!’ I would never dream of texting on my phone while driving, but wasn’t this sort of the same thing?”

— Adapted from Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe, by Greg Ip, published by Little, Brown in October

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