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Schiavo's book, although meant to be a blockbuster, was obviously completed in a rush after she resigned her position as Inspector General in charge of overseeing the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). It could have been a much better book if the timing wasn't so critical. Numerous factual errors and some amatuerish prose (even with a second author) make the book quite a bit less than it could have been. Although the book contains references, there is no index (a large omission in any work of non-fiction).
First, it must be realized that the FAA has many good and conscientious employees who try to do
the job of overseeing our nation's air carrier industry with too few resources. The FAA's
organizational structure is just too bureaucratic for many of its employees to think they can make a
tangible difference individually. Second, the dual mandate that the FAA both promote and oversee
the aviation industry might be too dichotomous in nature for both mandates to be served effectively.
Third, Schiavo paints a picture that airlines are constantly attempting to cut corners in safety matters if they weren't restrained from doing so by the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) and the FAA. Contrary to this belief, most carriers would continue to insist on a safe operation even if the FAA did not exist. When the statistics are perused, most of the air carriers in the world are safe, many outstandingly so. An air carrier's very existence, economically-speaking, demands a reasonably safe operation be maintained.
Schiavo does, however, make some very good points in areas that need improving. But like many
issues in today's society, and specifically concerning the dichotomy of airline safety, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of a continuum (the opposite ends of which might be marked "Unsafe" and "Safe"), with the safety of individual carriers, aircraft, and airports occupying different locations on the continuum.
The following excepts illustrate some of the technical foibles that can be found throughout the book:
. . . "if no one was hurt or killed, then its just an incident, not an accident." (p. 66)
Schiavo needs to review the definitions of "incident" and "accident."
Refers to a sextant as a "sexton." (p. 160)
"In tests, wings are flexed as much as 150 degrees from their normal position." (p. 214)
Figure this one out.
Referring to Lockheed's L-1011, "With the DC-10, their past troubles made a lot of people wary of
flying them." (p. 229)
The L-1011 is one of the safest and systems-redundant aircraft in the air; this author knows of no previous or current inherent problems with the L-1011 that would make passengers "wary" of flying on them.
Referring to aging aircraft, "It can't be mere coincidence that TWA is getting rid of its fleet of old 747s and replacing them with newer 767s and 757's." (p. 231)
TWA is replacing its 747s for purely economic reasons, with its high fuel and crew costs. An
airplane may be used safely as long as the carrier deems necessary as long as it is properly
Again referring to the L-1011, "The plane has only six exits as opposed to eight in most planes."
The L-1011 has eight exits.
Definition of "cross-check." (p.241)
Definition of "pilot deviations." (p. 249)
Includes inadvertent altitude, heading, or course deviations, usually due to misunderstanding with
ATC (Air Traffic Control) or complacency.
Referring to wind shear, "It is also a mystery--no one really understands how it affects plane
performance." (p. 288)
Wind shear has been actively studied since the 1975 Eastern B-727-225 accident at JFK (which the
author mistakenly refers to as an L-1011 on page 265).
Although there are many more errors in the book, the foregoing is a sample. For most passengers,
the most useful and accurate chapters in the book are: Chapter 15 "Straighten Up and Fly Right, and
Chapter 16 "Flying Healthy." Arguably, the most unusual and entertaining chapter is Chapter 7
"Relative Truth: CULT-ure at the FAA," which describes some of the bizarre practices employed at FAA management seminars conducted by Gregory May.
"Flying Blind, Flying Safe" is a decent read if one realizes the point of view portrayed by the author
is an extreme one. Still, for its impact, Flying Blind, Flying Safe has to be almost on par with
Rodney Stich's "The Real Unfriendly Skies: Saga of Corruption" (3rd ed., Reno, NV: Diablo
Western Press, 1990, 656 pp.)