Bad Mojo In The Air

Ward Sloane is a CBS News producer based in Washington.

The CBS Evening News reported a fact that is well-known among airplane crash reporters and investigators. There hasn't been a big commercial jetliner crash in the United State since November 2001. Smaller jets have crashed – and these are just as devastating, but it's the big jets that scare most of us. A big commercial jet crash sends shivers through the collective soul of the country.

That's because nearly two million Americans get on 28,000 flights everyday. When the flying day reaches it peak, there can be 5,000 airplanes in the air at the same time. It is a lot of people on a lot of planes everyday.

Any reporter who has covered a commercial plane crash never looks at a plane in the sky quite the same way. Every time a plane takes off or lands, the thought, "hope it lands safely," is more than likely to creep into the back of their minds.

I suspect it's the same for a crash investigator.

That's because aviation reporters and investigators know that there is no standard cause for a plane crash. It's not always mechanical, electronic or human. It can be one or two or any combination of these factors. And all it takes is one tiny little oversight to trip off a series of events that result in a catastrophic failure and the loss of hundreds of lives.

No one wants to mess with that chain of events. All air crashes are random. It's extremely unlikely that one crash will be caused by the same set of circumstances as another. In fact there may be only one example where two planes crashed because of the same design flaw.

Aviation safety is extraordinary. Every new generation of jets brings a new level of safety. As technology develops, the electronics in airplanes get more efficient and sophisticated. Airline crews for major carriers have excellent and on going training. The only good side to any air crash is that it leads to even more training. Given the volume of air traffic, it is a "golden age" of aviation safety, as a recent former Federal Aviation Administrator said.

But to aviation reporters and crash investigators, talking about the fact that there have been no air crashes in a long time is like baseball players talking about a no-hitter before it's complete—it could be a jinx. That's why in the small community of aviation beat reporters, no one ever mentions a safety streak. It's just bad mojo.

That's why no news is good news. People who know about these things are superstitious. These people believe keeping quiet is preventing an accident.