Tuesday, 30 December 2014

SAFE TO FLY?

As we know, flying is the safest form of rapidly crossing vast distances (especially oceans, mountain ranges, jungles, forests, deserts, and the poles). Millions of people fly every year, and only a few thousand die in hull losses (crashes). However, as we also know, 2014 was the most deadly in a decade.

Every time a billionaire airline company owner weeps in sorrow, or tweets in joy at a miraculous disaster averted, they avoid the ugly truth - commercial passenger aviation is based on a table of profit and losses, whereby some deaths and accidents are factored in, in advance.  If you don't build and fly airliners, people can't die in them, so obviously, so long as planes are not 100% safe (they are only 99.999% safe), the airlines are culpable, like tobacco companies, for some of the deaths, indirectly, perhaps only ethically. You cannot throw 400 people into the sky ten thousand times a day and then act surprised when some fall down and die.

No, we all accept, rather cruelly, the lottery of flying.  We know some people will die each year in a plane, flying with teddy bears and books and iPhones just like us, but we don't want those people to be us; so long as it usually is someone else dying, we accept the risk.  It is a risk unlike that of a major operation.  You never really have to be elsewhere, but sometimes you do need a tumour taken out.

One thing seems clear - more or less, planes, since 2005, are safer than before.  They fall down less often, and explode less often.  If we remove pilot error, wartime acts, and terrorism, from the list, we see the machines themselves almost never fail.  Few engines explode, few wings fall off - though rudders do, and engines do fail.  Which leaves us with this year.

In 2014, a few planes appear to be have been brought down by failure to fly when entering stormy weather.  This is a cause for grave concern, and should be addressed immediately.  This is because a) storms are foreseeable and b) inevitable and c) avoidable.  It is arguable that no passenger jet should ever have to fly anywhere near a serious storm system, at a time when it might prove deadly, in the same way no plane would be asked to fly into a volcanic ash cloud.  So why have so many recent air disasters arisen after pilots lost control during major storms?

The answer is ugly - the business demands more flights, more often, and planes are being thrown into air that is more turbulent than it should be.  If flying was deemed a little less urgent, and a little more deadly, we might be more cautious as consumers, and could expect to only be flown somewhere during calm winds.

This is perhaps silly, but it is a fact - we get the dangerous skies we demand.

If an airline advertised it would not fly into storms, or heavy weather, it might lose some business, but might gain much more from those of us (a silent majority) who fear death every time we take off.  And land.


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