The mission of the Federal Aviation Administration is supposedly to "provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world" and to be "accountable to the American public." According to documents recently uncovered, that apparently meant overlooking the safety risks posed to small aircraft pilots that would have to fly near a proposed Cape Cod wind farm.
According to a breaking story by the Associated Press, FAA employees felt pressure to approve the Cape Code wind farm because of the project's political momentum. The push for approval even went through while there was still disagreement over how to address the fact that the turbines interfered with radar abilities of small aircraft.
The technical operations team had recommended an extensive replacement of the radar system, which would have delayed the Cape Cod wind farm by three to four years. That type of delay was unacceptable to the head honchos at the FAA who instead approved the wind farm and recommended modifying the existing radar system at a nearby field. The official agency position was that safety would not be seriously threatened to those small aircraft.
Not so fast says the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has reviewed several FAA internal documents, including emails and internal presentations.
Thankfully, a federal appeals court reversed the FAA's approval and forced it to present more evidence that focused on the risks posed to pilots who would be forced to fly by sight only near the wind farm.
We live in a world where agency approval is deemed the gold standard. Michigan bars any product liability cases against pharmaceutical drugs that are approved by the FDA. Courts take similar steps to protect defendants whose products are in line with agency recommendations of other types. But this story exposes an untold narrative that should really question our willingness to discard questions of liability on the basis of agency stamp of approval.
If the agency is rushing to the business interests of its lobbying friends, and avoiding its mission of providing the safest product to the public, then what value, if any, does the approval of the agency mean to consumer safety? The more stories like these are released, the more I think we need to pressure our legislatures to revisit their grants of immunity to defendants on the basis of federal agency approval.