University of Rochester

Tension Between Airline Safety, Security Exists in Post-Sept. 11 World

September 8, 2003

Plane crashes seize headlines and unnerve the public, but the resulting investigations don't always lead to resolving systemic problems in airline safety. In some respects, security at airports suffers from similar problems.

David M. Primo, co-author of a new book, The Plane Truth, has found that crashes and terrorism alter the priorities of government, and that federal agencies need to resist the temptation to react hastily after tragedy occurs. Authorities also should strike a better balance between airline safety and aviation security, Primo says.

The Plane Truth (Brookings Institution Press, $17.95 paperback) examines airline disasters and the resulting media attention and government investigations. Primo, assistant professor of political science at the University of Rochester, and co-author, Roger W. Cobb, professor of political science at Brown University, recommend several federal policy changes to promote enhanced aviation safety and security, including the creation of a new agency to oversee safety issues.

In particular, the book studies all crashes in the 1990s, with special attention paid to the three major crashes that decade--USAir Flight 427 near Pittsburgh, ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, and TWA Flight 800 near Long Island Sound. The authors found that while safety is a primary concern in air travel, failure to agree on a definition of safety leads to conflicts in U.S. policy.

The book also deals with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which the authors believe turned attention away from airline safety and toward security. "This shift adds another dimension to the battle over aviation regulation, a battle that will be waged long into the future," say Primo and Cobb.

The Plane Truth
Airline Crashes, the Media, and Transportation Policy
Roger W. Cobb and David M. Primo/Brookings Institution Press/207 pages
Paper, (ISBN) 0-8157-7199-1, $17.95/13.25
Cloth, (ISBN) 0-8157-7198-3, $42.95/31.50