Toward Safer Skies

Sean "Diddy" Combs is seen at the Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match on Saturday, May 5, 2007, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
As British Airways Captain David Stevens pilots his plane over the Swiss Alps, an onboard computer records his actions and the jet's movements, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr. It's information, Stevens knows, that his airline bosses back in London will review.

"I personally feel that it's actually helped to make all of us fly the airplanes in a safer manner," admits Stevens.

The monitoring program, called BASIS, which stand for British Airways Safety Information System, is designed to identify dangerous trends before they result in a crash. Tapes or discs that record flights are routinely retrieved from planes. High-speed computers then search for mistakes, like steep takeoffs, hard landings, or improper flight control settings.

The key to the British Airways approach is thoroughness. Safety analysts, using computers, actually review every second of every flight every day. It adds up to more than 250,000 flights a year.

Captain Roger Whitefield is in charge of BASIS, which was pioneered by British Airways 30 years ago. "From all these millions and millions of gigabytes of data it actually just kicks out a small amount which we go back and have a look at."

Flying Safely
  • Be reasonable about the amount of carry-on baggage.
  • Be careful about what you put into the storage bins, the doors could pop open and spill their contents.
  • Fasten your seatbelt as soon as you sit down.
  • Listen to the briefing about safety procedures — the operation of emergency exits, seat belts, life vests and oxygen masks will be explained.

    If you are ever in an accident:

  • Stay calm.
  • Listen to the crew members and do what they say.
  • Before you open an emergency exit, look outside the window — if there is fire outside the door, fire could spread into the cabin.
  • Leave your possessions behind.
  • Jump feet first onto evacuation slide — don’t sit down to slide. Place arms across your chest, elbows in, and legs and feet together.

    (Source: U.S. DOT, FAA)

  • He recently reviewed a British Airways flight that had to abort a landing and go-around for a second approach to Boston. Whitefield, sitting at his laptop, re-flies the missed approach and concludes another plane crossed in front of the British Airways jet.

    It was a case where the compute kicked out a problem, a go-around, but Captain Whitefield went in and looked at the data and found the crew did everything by the book.

    Sometimes Whitefield and his computer do find problems, like planes that are going too fast on landing. When a potential danger is identified, changes are made. And that makes a difference.

    High landing speeds have contributed to accidents, including an incident involving a Southwest Airlines jet near Los Angeles and an American Airlines crash in Little Rock. British Airways has not had one such accident.

    When asked if he thought BASIS has prevented accidents, Captain Whitefield said, "You cannot certainly say that it has stopped an accident, but it has certainly promoted a safety culture inside of this airline which has helped us prevent having one."

    And pilots embrace it because they're protected from retribution. During the data analysis, only a pilots' union representative and not the airline knows who was flying which plane.

    "Because the system is completely anonymous you don't feel like 'Big Brother' is watching you," said Captain Stevens.

    But that's not the case in the United States. On Wednesday's CBS Evening News, why U.S. airlines are decades behind the safety curve.

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