The New York Times reported that outside the United States the Federal Aviation Administration is considered a "role model" and "first-rate regulator," because it has the lowest accident rate in the world. The Times' viewed regulation rather than market based innovation as the solution to accident rates in foreign countries.
In Latin America, "accidents number one for every 600,000 flights" and "Africa is the least safe region in the world for air travel, with one accident for every 244,000 flights," said the Times.
One source, Giovanni Bisignani, secretary general of the International Air Transport Association, lamented the "the lack of a common regulatory framework" and failure to live up to standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations specialized agency.
But the success of accident records in the United States doesn't lie solely in regulation. Safety looks good to consumers too.
"You shouldn't need to have a regulator looking at every aircraft as it takes off or checking every turn of a screw by a maintenance person," Mr. Nicholson of the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain told the Times. "The regulator is the fallback. Ultimately, it is the airline's job to do what it has to do. When there are lapses, responsibility can only ever come back to the airline."
Despite the safety record in the United States, the FAA has plenty of problems. In recent years, the agency failed to carry out more than 100 recommended safety reviews at major airlines, according to The Wall Street Journal May 6.
Wired magazine acknowledged serious flaws with the outdated Air Traffic Control in October 2007 saying, "Built on World War II technology, the system is showing its age. Planes move quickly, and radar takes anywhere from three to 12 seconds to accurately read a position."
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the system supposed to take over for ATC isn't projected to be fully operational with the airlines until 2025 and there is still a question of funding.