A survivor of the jetliner that ditched in the Hudson River after hitting birds and most other public commenters opposed a government proposal to make secret its data on when and where such bird strikes occur.
Public comments about the Federal Aviation Administration's secrecy proposal ran 5-to-1 against it as the comment period closed Monday. One major group, which had been expected to support the rule, declined to take a position.
The primary trade group for U.S. airports, the Airports Council International-North America, told the FAA that its member airports were split on the issue so it "cannot take a position either supporting or opposing the FAA's proposed order." But it urged the agency "to provide explanatory information to assist the public and media to use the data responsibly" if it decides against imposing the secrecy.
Donald C. Jones, of Jacksonville, Fla., who was fished from the Hudson Jan. 15 along with the other 154 people aboard US Airways flight 1549, told the FAA he was "surprised and alarmed" to read its proposal. "This issue needs to be addressed openly, not swept under the rug," Jones said. Six private pilots and an air traffic controller also were among 35 people who objected in writing to the FAA's plan.
The Airline Pilots Association, which represents more than 52,000 professional airline pilots, the city of Portland, Ore., which operates three airports, and helicopter-maker Sikorsky Aircraft were among seven commenters who favored the secrecy.
After the Jan. 15 ditching, The Associated Press requested access to the FAA's bird strike database, which contains more than 100,000 reports of strikes that have been voluntarily submitted since 1990.
While still processing the AP Freedom of Information Act request, the FAA on March 19 quietly published its proposal to keep the data secret in the Federal Register and provided 30 days for public comment.
The agency expressed concern that, if the data were made public, some airlines and airports would reduce their voluntary reporting of bird strikes for fear that the public and news media would misconstrue raw data and "cast unfounded aspersions on the submitter."
"Drawing comparisons between airports is difficult because of the unevenness of reporting" from airport to airport and the difference in local bird populations they have to deal with, the FAA said.
But Jones was among several commenters who suggested the remedy for uneven reporting was to make the reports mandatory, not secret.
"Why isn't reporting of strikes by commercial airlines, private aviation and airports mandatory?" Jones asked the FAA. "How can the FAA ignore the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board that reporting strikes be mandatory?" The safety board made that recommendation to the FAA 10 years ago, noting that the database grossly understates the number of strikes.