Friday, August 25, 2006

Who Won Today's Battles?

From the command post, it looks to me like the terrorists are waaaay ahead today. No investment, no plans, just the scared populace (via CATO) doing their bidding. It's been sport watching the stories shape up and lose their glitter on cable news today:

- American Airlines (NYSE: AMR) plane enroute from London to ORD escorted by Canadian jets to a precautionary at Bangor. First, there was a phoned-in bomb threat. No, turns out it was suspicious conversation on board. Now, it looks like somebody is possibly on board with a similar name as somebody on the no-fly list.

- US Airways (NYSE: LCC) enroute from Phoenix to Charlotte. Unruly passenger on-board forced a precautionary at OKC. Oops, looks like it was just a drunk.

- Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) Flight 52 rescreened at Houston after a college kid has low levels of explosive residue on one of his bags. Turns out, a souvenir he bought in Buenos Aires alerted a dog after he'd taken it off the plane and was going through customs!

- Turns out, there were a lot more airline incidents today.

- Suspicious device on the windshield of a car along the street in San Pedro, CA (note to MSNBC: it's pronounced San PEEdro. You may have noticed on the Google map you inset that the peninsula is called Portuguese Bend? It shouldn't be too hard to figure out a Spanish pronunciation isn't appropriate.) Funny, the guy rummaging through the trunk doesn't look too concerned. What's that, the car was parked along the street with it's hood up, and somebody read too much into the breakdown of a crappy car? Hunh.

I'm really beginning to suspect that the money and liberty the .gov wants me to hand over with a smile to protect me from the terrorists is a slow motion, knee-jerk reaction. It sure seems that the costs far outweigh the expected benefit. I'll take a closer look to confirm, but the irrefutable fact is that the people who are engaged in spending my money on the project have the most to benefit from spending my money. In today's political climate, fomenting fear and promising strong action (at my expense) gets you votes. It's a great example of unconsumated, unholy alliances. There is no conspiracy, but the terrorists and bureaucrats have the same incentives: create enough fear in the populace to justify bilking me of my liberty and property.

OK, I'm a numbers guy, so here's the numbers for today. According to NTSB statistics for 1986 - 2005, US airlines have a .220 per 100,000 hour accident rate. 94% of those accidents occur in phases of flight other than cruise (Boeing's Statistical Summary of Jet Airplane Accidents). The first two "events" today resulted in an additional approach, landing, taxi, takeoff, and climb. Therefore, for those two flights, the risk of accident increased by 94%. Meanwhile, the sabotage, suicide, and terrorism risk never rose above .055 per 100,000 hours. Assuming all terrorist risk was totally ameliorated by the extra landing, the accident risk of both flights was all but doubled!

As a commercial pilot, I know two things that non-commercial pilots probably don't. First, the guys in the cockpit of the jet you fly on are not the smartest individuals in the world. Second, the biz is centered around one inviolate rule: NEVER increase risk! So, the airlines must have a good reason for allowing the savants up front to DOUBLE the risk of the flight. Here's the gouge: the corporate risk of crashing an airplane is LESS than the almost-imperceptible risk of not over-reacting to a possible terrorist incident!

Take a moment to digest that. You have allowed your pols to scare you so much about a non-event, that you will give your blessings to DOUBLING the real risk of injury or death. Compared to that, how can I possibly ask you to reclaim your liberty and property?

UPDATE: This has to be the funniest thing I've ever read. I tell you, I'm going to invest in clear plastic suitcases that I can check and wear a tyvek suit and booties when flying on a crowd-killer from now on. (H/T: Homeland Stupidity)