Hi Captain Lim,
Thanks for a great site. I am a fearful flyer and your site is really helping me. I*m due to go on a long flight next year from London to Mexico via Miami with Virgin Atlantic. I have a few concerns:
1. How safe is Mexicana Airways? I'm a bit nervous, especially on the Miami to Cancun flight.
2. When flying over the Atlantic, say the plane had failures on all engines ? you are over the ocean, I believe the plane can only glide for approximately 10 minutes; so what happens? Does Virgin Atlantic use the Boeing 777s?
I know many air travelers tend to be scary the moment they hear of an air crash (unfortunately September 2005 was the worst month!) and think "can it happen on my next flight?" Well, basically their fears are well founded. You can't help it - the publicity is everywhere - the newspapers, TV, radios, etc.
Let me reassure you again. Modern jetliners are incredibly reliable. On some planes, onboard computers even automatically monitor their engines and then radio ahead to the maintenance if they detect any technical problems well before the pilots even know about them! So technically, engines are very sound. Nevertheless, nothing is infallible, bearing in mind Murphy Laws.
How safe is Mexicana Airways? The safety of an airline is dependent on many factors - not just the hardware but also the pilot training (very important), management policy, financial strength, etc. Since I do not have detailed access to such information of Mexicana Airways, I cannot give you the most up-to-date assessment of the safety of the airline. However, I do have an unofficial ranking, compiled from statistics of various sources. It serves as a general guide for air travelers and Mexicana Airways is top in the ranking for the Caribbean and Latin/South America Regions.
What happens when all your engines fail over the Atlantic? This is most uncommon in modern airliners except in two clear-cut and classical cases I can think of - an Air Transat Airbus A330 over the Atlantic and a Boeing 767 in Canada. The first one suffered fuel leak and the other one ran out of fuel because it was under filled by error. All the passengers on board these two planes survived the landing without engines.
The survival rate of any air crashes is dependant on four very important characteristics; firstly, the landing or impact area must be straight and flat; secondly, the landing area must be long or at least a mile or so in length; thirdly, the impact surface must be strong enough to support the weight of the plane and finally, the touch down speed must be as slow as possible.
Flights over the Atlantic cruise between 30,000 to 40,000 feet. Should you be on the unfortunate flight when all the engines decide to quit on you, the plane will glide between 85 to 105 miles (about 10-12 minutes) before it comes into contact with the water.
If you remember the basic requirements of a suitable landing area - water surface has two of them ? flat and long (hopefully on a calm sea). Provided the pilot can slow the plane down to its lowest landing speed (with flaps) and control the touch down well, you chances of survival are basically very good.
The plane, when intact, will float for a reasonably period of time to enable everyone to evacuate into the life rafts. (Hence, the importance of listening very attentively to the life jacket briefing on your flights)
You can further read my other FAQ under the Ditching topics onthe Airbus A330 crash landing in the Azores and the Canadian Boeing 767 successful glide landing.
Virgin Atlantic does not operate the Boeing 777s but they do fly the Boeing 747-400s and Airbus A340 across the Atlantic.