WASHINGTON NATIONAL . . . Logan International . . . LaGuardia . . . and who knows where else--or when--jetliners already have had an unusually terrible fortnight of accidents with one common denominator: bad weather conditions. Whatever different factors may have affected these flights, there does seem to be cause for concern about why planes do take off and land in this kind of weather. Shouldn't airport managements be more "chicken" than they are about staying open in bad weather?
To say they should be is not to blame any particular airport management for the combinations of decisions and results that led to these last three accidents--precisely because there is a combination of decisions as well as past experiences that tends in borderline cases to wind up with a "go" call.
Ultimately, and properly, a pilot reserves the final decision not to take off or land. After all, who, sitting on a plane in snow or freezing rain, would want a hesitant pilot ordered to stop objecting and follow orders to go up or land?
But there are factors connected with finances, reputations, pride and the demands of passengers that do enter these deliberations, however unconsciously or honestly. For example, an airport management knows that closings mean losses of landing fees. In turn, airlines know that cancellations can mean fares going directly to a competing airline that decides to fly. Some flight crews know that no work may mean no pay, less pay or more work at another time. And most crews have enough pride and faith in their own abilities to want to "deliver" whenever they believe they can, rather than to beg off.
Today's air travelers, too, are not always delighted to hear about delays or cancellations; we have all come to expect jets to fly in all sorts of weather conditions--and the fact is, they do, and statistics say they do it remarkably well. But the fact also is that when there is snow, ice and poor visibility, the dangers are increased and the likelihood of an accident, however small it still may be, appears to be greater.
So if airport managements do review their justifications and standards for closing down operations, and if airlines do appear to cancel more flights in foul weather and accept without doubt or question their pilots' decisions not to take off or land, passengers had best understand before protesting too much that to do so may well add to all the other pressures to fly when the decision is a close one that should probably go the other way.