Editorial: Safer than ever -- if the systems don't go wrong

Let's all hope that piloting airliners is a lot like what people always say about riding a bicycle: You never forget how.

Some people at the federal Department of Transportation aren't satisfied that such is the case, according to a report by the department's Office of Inspector General. The authors of that report are concerned that what in other fields we call "continuing education" is being neglected.

As if commercial air travel for everybody except the lucky few in first class weren't uncomfortable enough already. And given that both the largest airline and the busiest airport in the world are in Georgia, these are not abstract concerns.

Statistically, as was reported just last week, flying is still the safest form of travel, and safer than ever before. The technologies of aeronautics, navigation, weather tracking and communication are refined beyond what most people imagined even a few years ago, and design redundancies provide innumerable backup safety systems.

Ironically, it's that very sophistication that the USDOT considers cause for concern.

Most hands-on flying now is limited to takeoffs and landings, the report says, and the concern is that the Federal Aviation Administration is not adequately overseeing pilots' aptitude in fundamental manual flying skills.

The FAA did issue new requirements in 2013 for commercial carriers to revise training to focus on those skills, but the specifics of that revised training are in limbo, and the compliance deadline is still three years away.

"Because FAA hasn't determined how carriers should implement the new requirements or evaluated whether pilots manual flying time has increased," the report states, [FAA] is missing important opportunities to ensure that pilots maintain skills needed to safely fly and recover in the event of a failure with flight deck automation or an unexpected event."

If we didn't implicitly trust the competence of those folks behind that closed door up at the front of the fuselage, millions of us wouldn't cram into airplanes every day.

Still, a little more certification to validate the trust wouldn't hurt.

Wrong approach

Teacher incentives and merit pay are among the ideas for improving the state of public education in Georgia. Tying salaries to standardized test scores is one such idea. A bad one.

A bipartisan group of south Georgia legislators told the Valdosta Daily Times that it's probably a non-starter in the new legislative session anyway.

Good. De-emphasizing standardized testing, while at the same time increasing its career impact on teachers, would be absurd.

"That," said Sen. Ellis Black, R-Valdosta, "would be a disaster." We couldn't agree more.