Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Risk Assessments: Tourists Outperform Journalists

In the wake of the tragic midair Hudson River corridor collision involving a sightseeing helicopter and a small plane, much has been written about what a wild-west zone that area is for aircraft and the pilots who fly there, due to the current FAA rules and regulations that govern the corridor.

Many have decreed that the Hudson River airspace was a tragedy waiting to happen, and that inaction by the FAA effectively ensured that eventually death would rain from the sky. So you would think that tourists would avoid taking sightseeing tours in that area for awhile due to the imminent danger.

New York Times reporter Stephen J. Dubner, writing in the Freakonomics section, comments on a story that appeared in the Daily News, penned by reporter Joe Jackson. Jackson was doing a follow-up on the tourist helicopter biz, given what had happened, and discovered that the accident didn't appear to be keeping tourists from climbing aboard the choppers for a flight around Manhattan.

When airborne, Jackson was a bit of a nervous nelly, constantly looking out of the windows to gauge distances between his aircraft and others that were buzzing around, while the foreign tourists appeared immune to it all, concentrating instead on the sights of Gotham City.

Dubner wondered why and came up with a plausible answer: Media coverage of accidents in Europe are much more subdued than they are here in the United States, so there should be a corresponding lack of hysteria among Europeans compared to say, an American journalist who is part of the fan-the-flames media mentality.

As Dubner observes, it's probably quite a bit safer to fly on one of those helicopters right after an accident of this type, since there will be a heightened sense of safety and awareness on behalf of everyone involved with air operations.

But American's sense of risk assessment and prioritization are so out of whack due to the wall-to-wall coverage of similar events that we tend to go in the other direction, avoiding such activities for fear it might happen again. Which it might. But probably not. At least for awhile.

Image by Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha via flickr

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