When people think of air safety these days, what most often comes to mind is how travelers can best be protected from terrorists. But there are other less dramatic but equally deadly and growing dangers, as was seen in early July, when a cargo jet barely missed colliding with a fully loaded passenger jet on the ground at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It would be foolhardy to ignore these more mundane risks as resources are being heavily focused on preventing Islamist terrorists from committing mayhem in mid-air.
How did a DC-8 cargo plane almost hit a Boeing 767 with 260 passengers on board? The real surprise is that a collision was averted at all. It was a typical mid-summer night: rain and fog. The Israir passenger plane missed a turn onto a taxiway and ended up in the middle of a runway, just as the DC-8 was roaring down the same runway, having been cleared for takeoff. None of the airport’s electronic systems warned the pilot of the cargo plane that he was heading straight for the 767. Instead, he got lucky, as did the hundreds of passengers aboard the 767: His eyes happened to pick out the lights of the 767, and he brought his plane into a steep climb, taking off just in time. The DC-8 cleared the 767 by just 100 feet. As luck would also have it, the cargo plane happened to be empty. If it had been carrying cargo, a collision would have been inevitable.
It’s shocking that J.F.K. airport, as the most well-known and prestigious portal to the United States, doesn’t have the most advanced system available for avoiding ground collisions. While its taxiways and runways are well labeled with signs and blinking lights, the controllers are still relying on an outdated system— Airport Surface Detection Equipment—to keep track of ground traffic when the controllers’ vision is obscured. The ASDE radar isn’t completely reliable; sometimes it mistakes puddles for planes. There are better systems, however, such as the one that the Federal Aviation Administration has installed at five airports and may soon install at 29 more. That version uses sensors placed strategically around the airport that can identify every plane and its position. In a show of bureaucratic small-mindedness, the F.A.A. has no plans to place the new system at J.F.K., La Guardia or Newark airports, because of their relatively decent safety records. But air traffic is increasing, and the July 6 near miss at J.F.K. should make it clear that a ground collision is a disaster waiting to happen. Moreover, the airlines have been resistant to investing in new technologies that would minimize dangers on the ground, because they don’t want to spend a penny more than they have to (as anyone who’s flown coach, wedged into bone-crunching seats and treated to shoddy service, can well attest).
The entire region depends on the New York airports for the efficient movement of millions of people each year. George W. Bush’s administration needs to stop treating New York like some Third World outpost and team up with the Port Authority to invest in the new technologies that will make our airports the safest in the nation. Will it take a disaster on the runway to force our public agencies to spend the public’s money to protect the public?
Summer in the City:
No Room at the Inns
As New York and the nation approach the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an extraordinary development is taking place—one that nobody would have predicted in the aftermath of that terrible day.
Tourists are flocking to New York. They’re coming in record numbers, visiting museums, taking in shows, dining out and otherwise enriching themselves culturally and us financially. For many visitors, this city is the real magic kingdom, not the one in Orlando. For most of the world, New York is the only city in America that looks and feels like a city. Most other U.S. cities are really just shopping centers or isolated museums surrounded by suburban office parks.
In June, the city’s hotel occupancy rate was just over 90 percent. Normally, the city’s hotels are 80 percent booked in June. And the biggest rush may be yet to come: October traditionally is the busiest month for the city’s hotels.
Here’s another statistic that nobody would have foreseen four years ago: From January to April of this year, more than 15 million people landed in the area’s three airports. That’s a record figure. What’s more, foreign tourists made up a third of that number.
It would be understandable if city officials, particularly those who have helped foster the city’s tourism industry, paused to celebrate. Fortunately, however, they are not. Indeed, they’re taking nothing for granted.
The city recently announced a partnership with the History Channel, which will produce several documentary features about New York landmarks, an effort that will certainly bring even more tourists here. That is smart, innovative thinking.
But it’s important to remember why New York hasn’t continued to suffer in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Under the strong, vibrant leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, New York continues to be the safest large city in the country. Tourists from elsewhere have no reason to doubt their choice of New York as a destination—fear of crime has been banished from these streets.
Tourists respond to word of mouth, and the buzz about New York is the envy of our competitors. What’s important is that we continue to focus on keeping the city safe and clean, and that we welcome those who wish to share a New York moment with us. Tourists, let’s remember, are our friends. Among some New Yorkers, it is fashionable to complain about the visitors in our midst—their customs, their questions, their clothes. Real New Yorkers understand, however, that these guests simply wish to experience once in their lives what we see every day. And they are willing to pay a fair amount of money for that experience.
So bring them on, and keep them coming.
The Family Dinner:
A Healthy Habit
Will the family dinner ever again be part of America’s nightly ritual? It’s not just type-A, overscheduled New York families that have abandoned any attempt to eat their evening meal together; across the country, less than one-third of children sit down to dinner with both parents. And, as with many rituals, there’s a hidden cost involved once it’s abandoned.
A report from the Harvard Medical School found that kids who regularly ate dinner with their families had a 15 percent less chance of being obese. A study conducted by Columbia University revealed that teens from families which rarely eat dinner together are 72 percent more likely to indulge in drugs, booze and cigarettes. The research also shows that once or twice a week doesn’t cut it; for the family meal to act as a corrective to obesity, drug use and other problems, it has to happen every day or at least six times a week. It turns out that Caucasian families in which both parents work have the worst record when it comes to gathering around the communal table. Latino families, by contrast, have the best record.
The research should give many New York parents pause. Rather than hyper-scheduling their kids into time-consuming after-school activities as they build their résumés for Harvard or Yale, they might create far happier and more successful children if they made the family dinner a priority. Of course, that would also mean giving up their own frenetic routines.