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FAA looks at releasing safety data

People choosing an airline may one day be able to compare not just schedules and prices, but also safety records.

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into ways that safety ratings can be provided to the public. It has promised a report to the Senate Commerce transportation subcommittee within four months.

No conclusions have been reached about which government agency would collect and distribute the data, an FAA official said Monday.

Some airline safety information is available from private sources such as travel magazines, the official said. And the National Transportation Safety Board publishes annual summaries of accidents.

Tim Neale of the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group, said the airlines would study the idea but noted that in the past no one has been able to develop a way to compare carriers that they considered fair.

He also noted that airlines now share safety technologies and information and said he would not want to see competition discourage that type of cooperation.

The Transportation Department issues periodic reports on airlines' on-time performance and passenger complaints about lost luggage.

The FAA reports on foreign aviation safety, but it concentrates on the regulations and safety agencies in each country. If safety regulation in a particular country meets international standards, airlines from that country are allowed to fly to and from the United States.

A safety rating system for airlines in this country could follow the same pass-fail system, but that would provide no new data since any airline that fails a safety check already faces grounding or other restrictions.