Leaving Air Safety to the Experts

High-profile crashes arouse passions, but the sober details of debating regulation might be better left to those in the know.

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Saturday's tragic crash over the Hudson was met with much worried conversation about the absence of regulation in New York's well-trafficked river corridor.

The Atlantic's own James Fallows, one of the best writers on the subject, compliments New York's Mayor Bloomberg for his even-keeled handling of the crash, due to the Mayor's own experience as a pilot.

He said, essentially: this is a terrible tragedy, and while we have to look for causes, it doesn't mean we have to go crazy or shut everything down. More or less the way car drivers respond after a road tragedy.

This raises an important split as we head into a larger and longer debate over air safety. When it comes to high-profile crashes over iconic landscapes, everyone has an emotional reaction. But when it comes to adjusting rules to avoid the next crash, should we leave the finer-grained details to the experts?

Here's a range of the complexity of issues that the Hudson helicopter crash has raised:

  • Blind Spots, says Lisa Stark at ABC News. "'There are blind spots just about everywhere...We don't have that much visual range and very easy for two planes to approach each other and neither see anything.'"
  • Congestion, say Andy Geller, Austin Fenner and Jamie Schram at the New York Post. "The city's worst air catastrophe in eight years resulted from a lethal combination of a crowded, uncontrolled flight corridor and an appalling lack of rules requiring pilots to broadcast their positions."
  • Poor Communication, says Christopher Conkey in the Wall Street Journal. "But [a blind spot] doesn't explain the central question of federal investigators: Why weren't the two pilots aware of each other?"
  • Regulatory Negligence, say Alison Gendar, Matthew Lysiak and Samuel Goldsmith at the New York Daily News. "The [Federal Aviation Administration] is 'playing the odds' by letting local low-flying air traffic fly so close to small planes passing through New York's air space."
  • Unavoidable Bad Luck, says Mayor Bloomberg as quoted in the New York Times. "It may be one of those things where no amount of restrictions, other than preventing aircraft from coming into the area, could have prevented," he said. "And that's not something that anybody wants either."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.