Jet and passenger plane nearly collide over London, reported the BBC. What's wrong with this article (apart from the fact that if it wasn't London it wouldn't be front page news)?
The story is as mundane as they come; last year a couple of jets came quite close (in aviation terms) to colliding, it was investigated and procedural changes made to stop such stuff happening again.
There is an immediate problem that the writer of stories like this face; it is startlingly obvious that there wasn't ever much chance of tragedy occurring. Of course, it could have happened, but then I could be trampled by an escaped Elephant herd tomorrow.
[caption id="attachment_535" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="It could happen!"][/caption]
So the aim is to make sure we are very aware of how bad it might have been. Hence:
If the planes had come close during bad weather "the only barrier to a potential mid-air collision" would have been built-in collision-avoidance systems as the aircraft would not have beeNow, it might just be me, but that seems a completely irrelevant point. Our journalist, on the other hand, is on a roll:
the Turkish flight crew had not "followed the commands" of three on-board collision-avoidance warnings and the Citation jet did not even have the equipmentSo. The summary is that if this had happened in bad weather there would probably be a charred hole in London now?
On the other hand, a yet-to-be-published report from the UK Airprox Board, which also investigates incidents, has concluded the planes would not have collided even if no avoiding action had been taken.Oh dear. Of course, that doesn't matter, this could still have been fatal. right?
[caption id="attachment_539" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="This is what they want you to have in mind"][/caption]
This story is just an obvious example of a wider problem: media-driven confirmation bias. We all know air travel is dangerous (hint: no not at all). And the AAIB called this a "serious" incident. So confirmation bias leaps in and says that this was a tragedy avoided by the skin of our teeth.
In reality it is called serious because something went wrong; and in aviation anything that went wrong is definitely serious. Even if it takes a year to investigate.
But no one really cares about that. Something pretty nasty never happened, but could have, and we are still suitably scared of air travel (perhaps this is "circular confirmation bias").
What's even worse is that this is actually a great news story; something went a bit wrong, an investigation happened and it was suitably fixed. This is a good thing! But no one is interested in such things; it's much more fun to shudder in delighted horror at "what could have happened".