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Secret safety violations

Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey, who has been on the job only since August, already is flying off course. She recently suggested that one way to make air travel safer is to keep the public in the dark about airline safety problems.

Garvey wants to give pilots and airlines immunity from penalties if they voluntarily report their own safety violations to the FAA. She also plans to propose a rule that would exempt this information from the Freedom of Information Act and deny it to people who sue airlines after plane crashes.

The changes would create a dangerous lack of accountability for safety violations. Rather than promote safety, the new rules would create a culture that encourages cover-ups and secrecy.

The FAA has a long and well-documented history of cozy relations with the airline industry. Until recently, the agency was in charge of both regulating and promoting airlines. While those rules have changed, and the FAA no longer promotes airlines, Garvey's proposals suggest that an institutional loyalty to the airline industry still exists at the FAA.

The FAA only recently began reporting information about safety violations and fines imposed on the nation's airlines. There is no legitimate reason to change that policy now.