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Home > Air Crash > Do air crashes come in a row?
Do air crashes come in a row?
Aviation - Air Crash
Tuesday, 30 August 2005 01:08

On Friday, (luckily not the 13th of August), as I was going off to operate my next flight on the Boeing 777, my wife who is usually quite relaxed and easy going, said, ?Be careful? air crashes seem to come in a row.?

"Don't worry, honey, I will fly safely". Although not really perturbed, I did share her sentiment to a certain extent after the recent Toronto Airbus A340 and the Athens Boeing 737 crashes. Being an airline pilot, I am frequently being reminded of this fact. I even mention it to my co-pilot as we settled down for the cockpit preparations.

Well, the very next day, we were caught by Typhoon Matsa whilst about to depart Shanghai. According to the forecast, the typhoon was heading towards the South Eastern part of the city. Thinking that the strong crosswind would subside, we waited a little longer by delaying the departure. Instead, the wind continued to increase in intensity. In the end, I made up my mind, after conferring with my co-pilot, that we would not proceed as the force of the rain and cross wind had exceeded the limitations of the aircraft.

Interestingly, another Boeing 777 from a different airline, which was parked next to us left the departure gate and took off. This, of course angered the passengers who had been stranded at the lounge for several hours during the long delay. How could a similar plane take off whereas we could not?

It took me some pain to explain to my manager who appeared unconvinced until we found out over the radio that a United Airlines Boeing 747 and a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 had meekly returned after aborting their departures. I felt some sense of satisfaction to have had my hunch pay off, as I feel strongly about the safety of my passengers. As such, we only departed 24 hours later when Typhoon Matsa had left Shanghai.

This morning, as I flipped through my newspapers, I am reminded of what my wife had said. The top of the newspaper read, ?41 dead as plane splits in two?. A Peruvian airliner had crashed during a fierce storm. That makes it the fifth air crash of the month!

I run a website where I answer questions from readers about all aspects of flying, including how safe flying is on modern airplanes. How can my visitors believe me when air crashes seem to happen at such an alarming rate this month?

Is it true that flying is not as safe as the aviation industry has made it to be? No. Should you be worried as you step into a jet plane today or tomorrow?

Well, I would not be worried; according to aircraft manufacturers and aviation analysts, there is every reason for you to fly confidently with any major airlines. This is because that statistic shows that fewer than 5 accidents and 10 deaths occur for every one million flights.

How does this compare to our normal form of transportation?
There are many yardsticks put forward by different agencies to measure air safety.

According to the US National Transportation Safety Board, your chances of dying in a motorcar accident are 1 in 5000; on a train, it diminishes to 1 in 367,000; but when flying on a plane with a major airline, it goes down to 1 in 10 million.

Another professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that one has to take a commercial flight every day for 29,000 years before one is likely to meet with a fatal air crash.

Yet another 2003 study published by the American Scientist magazine, provides some data showing that, if a passenger chooses to drive rather than fly, he is 65 times more likely to be killed on the road.

Tom Ballantyne, an expert aviation analyst from the Orient Aviation, said, ?Air travel remains the safest form of travel by a long, long way.?

Despite the above, aviation safety experts have said that, because there are a lot more planes flying around, the probability, statistically, is that air crashes will continue to occur in the years to come. The figure for 2005 is likely to be affected by the 5 accidents in August alone.

What are the probable causes of the recent air crashes? The Toronto Airbus A340 accident was weather-related; the other cases involved small carriers that may have management problems and deficient procedures not usually found in major airlines.

My thoughts on the Peruvian crash? I have found that the aircraft is of the old Boeing 737-200 model, similar to that of the Helios Airways crash (the first of its types was manufactured in 1967 and this Helios Airways plane apparently had some problems with its pressurization). The old classic Boeing 737 still uses the old conventional flight instruments whereas most major airlines today operate the latest models - installed with the most cutting-edge technology and equipment.

According to official and radio reports, the Peruvian pilot reported that he could not land because of strong winds and torrential rain. Questions to ask: Did he carry enough fuel for such emergencies so he could have diverted to another airport? Why did the pilot attempt a landing in such weather?

These questions are very difficult to answer without asking the pilot directly.

My co-pilot and I had the privilege to meet up with our passengers at the hotel lobby in Shanghai. They were incredibly grateful as they had obviously felt the strength of the typhoon jostling them in the bus as it took them back to their comfortable rooms for another night!

So, do air crashes run in a row? I am more inclined to believe that they occur at random, and is normally a result of both human error and unforeseen circumstances. Next time when you get delayed in the airport, spare a thought for your flight crew who has to decide whether or not to take off - to take a risk with your life, or to play it safe. We don?t like delays anymore than you do!


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