A boost for air travel | Sunday Observer

A boost for air travel

Did you know that you are many times more likely to die on the road than in the air? Yes, air travel is at least 10 times safer than road travel. You can fly for millions of kilometres without any accident, whereas only a few drivers can manage to stay without even a minor crash in their driving years.

This is proven by the latest data which reveals that 2017 was the safest year in history for commercial airlines. There were no commercial passenger jet crashes anywhere in the world in 2017, separate reports by Dutch consultancy To70 and The Aviation Safety Network found. This was despite more flights being made than ever before.

The Airline safety Network said there were 79 deaths last year in aviation-related accidents. This compares with 16 accidents and 303 lives lost in 2016. (In contrast, more than 2,000 people were killed in road crashes in Sri Lanka alone in 2017).

The organization based its figures on incidents involving civil aircraft certified to carry at least 14 people. The most serious accident of 2017 came in January when a Turkish cargo plane crash killed 39 people, of whom the majority was the residents of the village where the plane crashed.


And the incident with the most on-board fatalities happened on New Year’s Eve 2018, when a Cessna 208 crashed in Costa Rica killing 12. Neither report counted military or helicopter accidents, meaning the year’s worst air disaster, the crash of a Myanmar Military Y-8 killing 122 men did not appear in the statistics. Incidents involving smaller planes also did not figure in the data.

Aviation safety is improving worldwide. In 2005, there were more than 1,000 deaths on-board commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

However, the last fatal passenger jet airliner accident took place in November 2016 in Colombia, and the last commercial passenger aircraft crash to kill more than 100 people occurred in Egypt a year earlier. ASN said the accident rate was one fatal passenger flight accident per 7,360,000 flights.

As ASN president Harro Ranter has pointed out: “Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organizations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry,” To70 estimated there was none fatal accident for every 16 million flights which is an enviable record by any means. Car makers would give an arm and leg to boast that kind of statistic.

Still, airliners can crash due to quite a few factors. Airlines rarely crash while flying at 10,000 metres - take off and landing are the most likely phases in any given flight where an accident might occur. Pilot error is still one of the biggest causes of fatalities but sometimes factors such as, bad weather can induce pilot error.


Inadequate training and certification can also lead some pilots to make errors in their judgments. Among the other factors and causes are mechanical faults, electrical/electronic faults and miscommunications with the ground Air Traffic Control.

New technology, including, fears of lithium-ion batteries catching fire on-board, as well as ‘mental health issues and fatigue’ of crew members should also be considered. ‘Pilot suicide’ is a major issue, not to mention the fact that some pilots have been known to hit the bottle just before their flights breaking the tenet ‘72 hours from the bottle to the throttle’.

The MH17 crash four years ago after a missile attack reminds us that conflict can sometimes pose a danger to civil aviation.

And very rarely, we do not even know how or why an accident was caused - MH 370 is the best example for a complete aviation mystery, as no trace of the huge Malaysian Airlines airliner which vanished in 2014 has been found despite nearly a four-year multi-country search.

Among the most serious issues in the current aviation scenario is the danger posed by unregulated drones. There have been several near-misses where commercial planes have escaped by a whisker after coming into visual contact with high-powered drones.

Most countries have declared airports as no-fly zones for civilian drones and the drones also have to be registered with the civil aviation authorities. Laser lights aimed at the pilots’ eyes which can cause temporary blindness is another danger. Bird strikes can also prove to be fatal, but not always as proved by the example given below.

A fully trained crew is still the best answer in a crash, except in a case like MH17 when no one can do absolutely anything. But in a ground crash, a properly trained crew can save more lives.

No one died in the “Miracle on the Hudson” on January 9, 2009, when Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger made a successful water landing of his US Airways Airbus A320 on the Hudson River in New York after a bird strike on an engine. While what the pilot achieved was indeed a miracle, the rest was down to the professional conduct of the cabin crew who guided everyone to safety.


Similarly, an Emirates crew was able to get everyone off their burning Boeing 777 plane on August 3, 2016 at Dubai Airport in just 90 seconds, which is the time recommended by manufacturers for emptying the plane in an emergency via emergency exits and chutes.

For a passenger (even for a frequent flyer) , it pays to watch the safety video, read the safety guide in the front seat pocket and to pay attention to the flights attendants as they point the emergency exits. As they say, the nearest emergency exit may sometimes be behind you. I always make it a point to do this on every flight.

Future advances will take airline safety further. One lesson learned from the MH 370 tragedy was the need to track airliners constantly, though pilots have opposed plans to instal CCTV cameras in the cockpit.

It is also technically possible to record flight data and cockpit communications to a unit on the ground, but more bandwidth would be needed for such a venture.

There could eventually be pilotless planes – a Chinese startup called Ehang already makes an autonomous plane that can fly one person.

At any given time, there are more than 16,000 planes in the air (not counting military aircraft) worldwide. The world will need around 40,000 new passenger planes over the next 20 years to fill the rising demand for air travel.

There is no doubt that the planes of the future will be even more advanced and safer than they are right now due to new safety measures and technologies. This should make ‘fear of flying’ a thing of the past. 


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.