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Air Travel; How Safe?
Given some of the worst air disasters in aviation history involving a single plane, and the attacks of 9/11, people have been asking the age-old question, how safe is air travel? What are the odds of being killed in a plane crash? The purpose of this blog is to show whether or not air travel is safer than other forms of transportation. First of all, lets take a look at some of the factors that have caused some notable plane crashes and the steps taken to ensure they never happen again.
On the third of March, 1974, a Turkish Airlines Douglas DC-10 crashed in Fontain-Chaalis, Oise, France, killing all 345 passengers on board. Until the crash of a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 jet in 1985, it was said to have been the worst air disaster in aviation history. Analysis of the Flight Data recorder, or black box which records ever moment of a commercial jet from the time it takes off till the time it lands, it was found out that the crash was caused by the failure of a cargo latching system that allowed it to blow off in flight, causing a decompression of the cargo hold, causing the cabin floor above the hatch to collapse. The flight controls that ran through the floor got severed, causing the pilots to lose control of the aircraft.
After that crash, there was a complete re-design of the latching systemThe latches themselves were re-designed to prevent them from moving into the wrong positions in the first place. The locking system was mechanically upgraded to prevent the handle from being able to be forced closed without the pins in place, and the vent door operation was changed to be operated by the pins, so that it would properly indicate that the pins were in the locked position, not that the handle was. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA) also ordered further changes to all aircraft with outward-opening doors, including the DC-10, Lockheed L-1011, and Boeing 747, requiring that vents be cut into the cabin floor to allow pressures to equalize in the event of a blown-out door. This would to prevent further similar incidents in the future.
On the 29th of May, 1979, an American Airlines et, also a DC-10, crashed shortly after take-off from the O’hare International Airport in Chicago Illinois, USA. Two hundred and seventy-three people which included two on the ground died in the crash. There were no survivors. That was said to be the worst plane crash in US aviation history. Investigators determined that the crash was caused by the left engine breaking off the wing, severing the hydraulic lines which caused a retraction of the slats, a set of flaps on the front of the wing that help to produce lift so the aircraft can take off. The result was the left wing losing its lift while the right wing continued to climb, causing the aircraft to roll almost upside down until it smashed into the trailer park that was near the airport. Investigators made recommendations that instead of removing just the engine during maintenance and jamming it back in place with the use of a forklift, the whole engine and the pylon should be removed. It was found out that the practice of jamming the engine back into place on the pylon caused a crack that caused the engine to separate, breaking the hydraulic lines which caused the pilots to lose control of the plane. Similar cracks were found on similar DC-10 airctaft.
Another notable crash was the crash of another American Airlines Airbus A-300 aircraft over Jamaica bay in Queens, New York. The cause of the crash was said to be caused by the tail breaking off because of excessive force applied by the First Officer. The strength of the air rushing against the rudder caused additional stress which caused the tail section to come off entirely. As a result American Airlines has modified its pilot training in order to avoid similar accidents. American Airlines has since then retired all of its Airbus A-300-600 series aircraft.
New laws regulating the operation of aircraft which were brought about my the NTSB and the FAA has helped to cause the number of air crashes to decline. According to the Wikipedia, 1997 showed a decline in the number of fatal accidents involving passenger aircraft which has been no more than 1 for every 2,000,000,000 person-miles flown; which in layman’s terms is 100 persons flying a plane for 100,000 miles, which makes it comparable with other modes of transportation, such as a person driving a car for 100,000 miles, making it the safest mode of transportation. This decline can be attributed to safety improvement in aircraft design, engineering and maintenance, the evolution of navigational aids which allows the pilot to arrive at his destination with little or fear of getting lost, and making him able to land in nasty weather which makes it harder for the pilot to see.
In 2006, the NTSB reported the deaths per hundred million miles by car, and 1.7 million deaths per travel by air. Note that these are not passenger miles. An airplane with 100 passengers causes passenger-miles to be 100 times higher. An increase in the number of passengers causes passenger-miles to be higher. Of course, this has lead to the report that travelling by air is the safest mode of transportation in terms of deaths per 100,000 passenger miles. I would also like to add that I cannot count on one hand the number of car wrecks I have witnessed; meaning being on spot when the accident occurred. I have never seen a plane crash. I have seen what’s left of a crashed plane, but not a crash in motion. In fact, our house in Jamaica is right in the approach path to the international airport and the planes pass over very low. I have sworn sometimes that I could smell the exhaust from the jet which is such an awesome smell. I am yet to witness a plane crash. In fact, as I’m writing this blog, a plane is passing over the house and I have not heard it crash. There was one time, however that; well I guess a crash could have resulted close to our house. You see someone has a radio scanner that we could use to hear the pilots of the various planes talking to air traffic control, and we heard a pilot call MAYDAY!MAYDAY!MAYDAY! He was reporting that he was having engine trouble and he was asked if he could make it back to the airport. He said yes and he was able to turn back and he landed safely.
So, how safe is air travel in comparison to travelling by car? I will leave that for you to analyse and draw your own conclusion.