Whenever 'rare' and 'preventable' tragic air travel events involving aircraft certified 'safe to fly' occur, pending formal accident investigation reports, mainstream media's experts rightly assure that US domestic travel has a very low accident rate. This essay proposes that the exclusion of manufacturing and operational data from the safety narrative, presents challenges to understanding how present and future risk develops. For example, that 'data-driven' low accident rate narrative excludes the staggering rise in near midair collisions and other ignored data, with potentially outsized consequences. This essay documented the specter of creeping accident recidivism; and transformational fleet groundings, that for the third time in four decades have questioned the behavior of the regulated and the regulator to determine how best to protect travelers.
Two extremely bizarre air travel events by avid video gamers, served as an allegory of the normalcy bias that flows from the US low accident rate and the traumatic consequences of unlearned lessons. Selections from among documented events from 1974 to March 10, 2019, have been woven into a compelling story about accident recidivism and certified aircraft. So far in the new millennium, identified clusters of recurring similar air travel tragedies, worldwide, have taken over 1,300 lives. Hauntingly, from 2008 - 2017, US airspace experienced a phenomenal rise in near midair collisions and other operational data--conveniently ignored by low accident rate devotees. The theme of normalcy bias runs as a leitmotif, throughout the essay, underscored by the actions of the historical characters encountered. The low accident rate hides more than it explains, misleads, and fails to protect travelers. Safety is more than an absence of accidents, and it's only by working back from first identifying the universe of hazards that can best enable forward-looking, risk mitigation. When neither aircraft manufacturers, nor the pilots and passengers, nor safety regulatory oversight authorities, themselves, don't know what can possibly happen up there, it's a bad day for everyone Worldwide air accident recidivism, and events excluded from the accident rate calculations, are precautionary wakeup calls: identify system-wide, sleepwalking hazardous vectors and adjust the safety narrative to reality