FAA must disclose airline responses to medical emergencies
ILLINOIS–The Federal Aviation Administration must give Chicago Tribune reporter John Crewdson information that shows how airlines have responded to medical emergencies in the air, the federal District Court in Chicago ruled in early May.
The court rejected the FAA’s claim that the records could be withheld under the federal Freedom of Information Act exemption protecting commercial information (Exemption 4). The FAA had claimed that the documents were confidential commercial records because they regard “events that occurred while aircraft were in revenue-producing operations.”
Crewdson’s attorney successfully argued that the agency’s definition of “commercial” would sweep a broad range of information into Exemption 4, ranging from critically important information, such as cockpit tapes, to a report on in-flight snacks.
The court said that “commercial” information must bear a more direct relationship to a commercial venture for the exemption to apply.
Starting in February 1996, Crewdson filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with the FAA for documents concerning handling of medical emergencies in-flight. In June 1996, based in part on documents he received from the FAA, the Tribune published a special feature titled “Code Blue,” asserting that some lives of passengers might have been saved if airline personnel had better training and equipment and were provided with better guidelines on when to make emergency landings.
The FAA provided a number of records but refused to provide information as to which airlines were involved in the emergencies described. The agency also withheld information about the individuals involved, citing the privacy exemption to the FOI Act (Exemption 6). (Chicago Tribune Co. v. Federal Aviation Administration; Media Counsel: Eric Mattson, Chicago)