Sky safety

HAVING access to the right technology at the right moment can often make a decided difference in safety. The Federal Aviation Administration has often pointed to high price tags and the changing state of the art as reasons that it is better to wait on safety steps. But better technology is always on the way. Too often it takes intensive publicity to spur change.

FAA chief Donald Engen concedes that the Aug. 31 collision of a Mexican airliner and small plane over California played a role in the agency's decision of a few days ago to require airlines within a few years to install anti-collision devices in the cockpit. It is a commendable decision. Several variations of the device have evolved over the last two decades, and airlines had been slow to respond to Washington's free-enterprise suggestion that they buy the $100,000 device voluntarily.

Also good news was last week's announcement by the Boeing Company that the FAA has approved a wind-shear-alert and guidance system developed by the company for use in some models of commercial aircraft. Though not mandatory and unable to predict wind patterns, it has been and will continue to be tested in a variety of aircraft. It can be a valuable supplement to inadequate low-level wind-shear detection systems now installed in a number of airports.

Technology is never the whole answer to improving safety. But when feasible it should be ushered in with all deliberate speed.

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