What is largely viewed as the world’s safest mode of travel, the safety of aviation is being questioned after a week that saw three deadly crashes resulting in 462 fatalities. The latest crash involved Air Algieri Flight 5017, an MD-83 jetliner carrying 116 passengers and crew. The flight originated in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and was enroute to Algiers. It disappeared from radar less than one hour into what should have been a four-hour flight.
The first two fatal crashes involved Malaysian Flight 17 which was allegedly brought down by Russian separatists with a surface to air missile over eastern Ukraine, followed by the crash of TransAsia Airways Flight GE-222 as it attempted to land on a small island in Taiwan during bad weather conditions.
On March 8, Malaysia Flight 370, a Boeing 777 200-ER, disappeared from radar during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Radar contact with the commercial flight with 239 passengers and crew was reportedly lost approximately one hour after takeoff. The search for the missing airliner continues in the Indian Ocean.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airlines trade group that monitors and answers questions about aviation safety and trends, the five-year average for aircraft accidents is 86 per year. 2013 saw 81 commercial accidents worldwide and that number was up from the 2012 total of 75, which was the industry’s safest year on record. While the number of aviation incidents over the last four months have resulted in hundreds of fatalities and have already surpassed the 210 fatalities reported in 2013, experts continue to point to the statistic of more than 100,000 flights daily that are completed without incident.
Of the four recent incidents cited, only the crashes of Air Algieri Flight 5017 and TransAsia Airways Flight GE-222 involved the common causes of pilot error or bad weather. The two incidents involving Malaysia Airlines involved uncommon causes; one being intentionally destroyed in an act of hostility, while the reason for the other airliner to go missing remains yet to be determined. Experts agree that there will likely be an increase in the number of incidents by virtue of the growth of the airline industry, particularly in developing countries. However, given the proportion of flights completed safely compared with all other aircraft incidents, they expect the rate of incidents to remain relatively unchanged. Germane to this is that the IATA projects 3.6 billion new passengers by 2016.
Studies into the causes of aviation accidents have been conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Their findings identified pilot or flight crew errors as the number one cause of all aviation accidents. Other common causes were attributed to malfunctioning equipment; flaws in aircraft design, the violation of NTSB and FAA regulations, failure to sufficiently fuel or conduct maintenance of the aircraft, and federal air traffic controller negligence.
General Aviation, according to the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA), is defined as all aircraft operations not involving commercial airlines, charters, or the military. The NTSB reports that since 1989, 85 percent of all general aviation accidents were caused by pilot error compared to approximately a 51 percent rate for accidents involving commercial scheduled services airlines. Since the occurrence of recent aviation tragedies, many have begun to question the safety record of the industry.
By Mark Politi