Recent airline crashes run against trend toward safer flying

Combined Shape

With plane crashes making headlines over the weekend, one in Florida with no fatalities and another in Russia that killed dozens, travelers might question whether flying has become less safe.

Aviation experts regard the recent incidents as a statistical blip, however, pointing out that such accidents and fatalities are a fraction of what they were as recently as the 1990s.

Advances in aircraft and airport design, better air traffic control, and improved pilot training are often cited as factors in reducing accidents.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to zero accidents, but aviation is still the safest it’s ever been,” said Seth Young, director of the aviation program at Ohio State University.

In the U.S., no airline passengers were killed in accidents from 2009 until April 2018, when a woman on a Southwest Airlines jet died after an engine broke apart in flight.

Trending:
US Chamber of Commerce Defies Biden, Calls for Termination of Weekly Unemployment Perk

Worldwide, there were more than 50 fatal airline accidents a year through the early and mid-1990s, claiming well over 1,000 lives annually, according to figures compiled by the Flight Safety Foundation. Fatalities dropped from 1,844 in 1996 to just 59 in 2017, then rose to 561 last year and 209 already this year.

Nearly half of the airline deaths in 2018 and 2019 occurred during the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia. In each case, investigators are examining the role of flight software that pushed the nose of the plane down based on faulty sensor readings.

That raises concern about safety around automated flight controls, said William Waldock, an expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“Pilots are not being trained as much as pilots as they are system operators and system managers,” he said. “So when something happens and the automation fails, they get flummoxed.”

Beyond the two Max crashes, safety experts see little immediate connection between other incidents such as the deadly weekend crash of a Russian plane that caught fire after an emergency landing in Moscow and the case of the charter airliner that ran off a Florida runway into a river; no one died in that one.

Investigators probe crashes in search of clues to prevent more accidents from the same cause. In the case of the Aeroflot jet that caught fire, killing more than 40 people on board, attention is likely to turn to Russian media reports that lightning disabled the plane’s communications system and whether pilots should have burned off fuel before the emergency landing.

Lightning strikes are not uncommon. In the U.S. alone, there are about 25 million every year, according to the National Weather Service. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said airline planes get hit about once a year on average.

Planes are built so that the fuselage acts as an electricity-conducting shield, keeping the voltage away from passengers and critical systems. The jolt is often dissipated off wings or the tail. Critical electronics have surge protection. Nitrogen is used to reduce the risk that electrical arcing could spark a fire in a fuel tank.

Newer planes like the Boeing 787, which uses carbon composite material instead of aluminum, includes fine wiring in the wings to direct current off the plane, said John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at MIT.

Related:
Police Respond to Simultaneous Mass Shooting and Fire in Maryland Neighborhood

“They should be designed to take a lightning strike,” Hansman said, “but if you don’t have a perfectly grounded airplane, if you don’t have the right surge suppressors, it’s possible you can take out some of the avionics or electronics.”

Sunday’s fiery crash in Moscow raised questions about making an emergency landing shortly after takeoff, while the plane is still fully loaded with fuel and likely over the maximum landing weight.

Only very large airliners have the ability to dump fuel. Most jetliners including the popular Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 do not. That leaves only one option for lightening the fuel load on a plane like the Russian-made Sukhoi SSJ100 — circling long enough to burn fuel.

John Cox, a former airline pilot and now a safety consultant, said he would only circle if he were concerned that something was wrong with the plane’s landing gear, or the runway was too short.

Video of the landing showed the Aeroflot plane seem to touch down on its main landing gear, then bounce up before coming down hard a second time. At that point, flames can be seen coming from the jet.

Video also captured passengers toting their carry-on luggage as they fled the burning jet. Passengers on U.S. airlines are told to leave personal belongs in an emergency because it can slow the evacuation when seconds are precious.

“We will never know if more lives could have been saved if the bags were left behind,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →






We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

Tags:
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
Location
New York City




Conversation