Miles O'Brien

Miles O’Brien is a pilot, airplane owner and freelance journalist who lives in Manhattan. His blog is located at www.milesobrien.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

At the Colgan/Continental 3407 crash hearing in Washington on Thursday, an expert from NASA told the National Transportation Safety Board that airliners should be equipped with a new warning system that sounds an alarm in the cockpit when the airspeed gets dangerously low – awakening the crew from its complacency.

There is a bit of irony that this advice comes from NASA, an agency that has collectively killed 14 astronauts and destroyed two $2 billion space shuttles because of complacency on an institutional scale.

And that is what troubles me about the cockpit airspeed-warning gadget. While it might be a fine idea, it does nothing to solve the real problem. It is a band-aid on a gushing artery and to the extent “solutions” like that fool us into thinking we have made things truly safer; they are insidiously dangerous indeed.

Critics often accuse the Federal Aviation Administration of having a “tombstone mentality” – meaning people have to die before things can change for the better. But the tombstone mentality is much bigger than the FAA, NASA or any other bureaucracy. It is as fundamental as human nature.