About five hundred years back, the amount of time required to travel a thousand mile was more than days and sometimes even months. Back then, the ordinary people used to travel by foot and only the rich could afford animal driven carts. This wastage of time was reduced by the introduction of engine powered cars and trains. Even though these vehicles were faster than the animal driven carts, it still took days to travel around thousand miles. Therefore another means of transportation had to be invented by which this time wastage could be diminished. Thus the Wright brother’s was able to make the first plane, which could travel much faster than the trains and cars. Thus the time required to travel was drastically decreased by the invention of planes. Due to the huge advances in technology in the 21st century, there are planes that can travel even faster than sound. These planes take less than an hour to travel more than thousand miles. Travelling by the means of air has become the most fastest and common method of transport especially for great distances. At the present situation, we can travel around the world in less than a day unlike the past when it used to take months to do so.
Thus we can now travel anywhere in the world by the time we have a small nap and a coffee. But as in most cases of technological advancements, we cannot achieve such great feat without a price. One such price we had to pay over and over again is the lives of the individual that was lost in the numerous airplane crashes we had ever since we started using the airplane. The airplane crashes have claimed oven ten thousand lives in the last decade in over 1800 accidents. Though the number of accidents has been reduced to half the number a decade back, the number of death tolls hasn’t decreased much. This is because as the technology increased, the number of passengers on a flight increases. Earlier only around hundred people could travel in a plane and now there are flights that can accommodate more than 500. Thus the number of passengers involved in one accident increased and even though there are fewer accidents, two or three are enough to take more than 1000 lives.
Aviation fatalities have existed since the time of the invention of planes. The first of it occurring on one of the models of the Wright brothers causing death of a passenger on board and injuries to Orville Wright himself. Beginning that incident certain safety features were added to the plane in order to reduce accidents. The aviation safety equipment industry has become a very big one and now is a billion-dollar industry on its own. The aviation safety has improved significantly over the past hundred years of its implementation. Over the last few years more than 95% of the people in U.S. plane crashes have survived as a result of the new safety features introduced in them.
One of the most terrifying aviation accidents was the Tenerife incident. It is the disaster that has caused the highest number of fatalities. More than five hundred fifty people died in this disaster. This occurred when a KLM Boing 747 collided with a Pan Am747 at Los Rodeos Airport in Spain. The cause of the crash was the pilot’s error. The pilot of the KLM flight attempted to takeoff without clearance and collided with the taxiing Pan American flight. This incident was completely the mistake on the side of the pilot but there are certain ones that are also caused due to mechanical failure. The crash of the JAL Flight 123 was one such case. About five hundred twenty were dead in this accident when the aircraft underwent an explosive decompression due to an incorrectly repaired aft pressure bulkhead. This occurred in mid flight and destroyed most of the flights vertical stabilizer. This also severed all of the hydraulic lines, making it virtually uncontrollable. In this case the pilots were more experience but their experience could only keep the plane flying for a few more. The plane finally crashed into a mountain making it the single-aircraft disaster with the most number of fatalities. This was a case of mainly mechanical problems and not the pilot’s error.
The introduction of the airborne collision avoidance system was done after the 1996 Chakhri Dadri mid-air collision. In this accident a Saudia Flight 763 crashed on an Air Kazakhstan flight 1907 when the Kazakh pilot was flying lower than the altitude he was given clearance to. This accident claimed 349 lives, which includes all the crew and passengers aboard both the flights. The airborne collision avoidance system gives information about any aircrafts or flying objects nearby thereby helping the pilot to change its course in order to prevent collision.
As the technology became advanced, the speed with which the aircrafts could fly increased as well as the safety features required to travel at those speeds. One of the greatest planes ever made was the Concorde. It was considered as an aviation icon and an engineering marvel. This airplane was powered by a turbojet engine, which made it possible for it to travel faster than sound. This supersonic passenger plane made the time required to travel to any place half the current time required. The production of these planes was stopped shortly after the Air France flight 4590’s crash. This was a Concorde flight scheduled from Charles de Gaulle airport to JKF airport. It crashed into a hotel in Gonesse, France shortly after its takeoff. All nine crewmembers and one hundred passengers aboard could not survive the accident. This incident took place due to a chain of errors and the main one being exceeding the maximum takeoff weight limit. This limit was not exceeded by a small amount but by a ton.
Though the flight could have handled this excessive weight, the flight could not takeoff properly because the center of gravity of the whole weight was concentrated on the rear of the flight. Also a titanium alloy strip fell out of a Continental Air flight during takeoff five minutes before the takeoff this flight. The runway staff did not do the necessary step to inspect the runway and remove this seventeen-inch long debris. It was a part of the protocol for Concorde takeoff preparation that the runway should be inspected before takeoff. As a result of this debris lying on the runway, it cut a tyre of the Concorde flight rupturing it. Due to the centripetal forces, a piece from the tyre that weighed ten pounds struck the underside of the aircrafts wing structure with speed more than 300 mph. Though this did not directly rupture any fuel tanks, it send out a pressure wave causing one of its fuel tank to rupture at its weakest point. This was the fuel tank that was overfilled earlier during fuel transfer. Either the electric arc of the landing gear or some severed electric cable ignited the leaking fuel. Due to this fire, both engine one and two surged and lost all its power. But after a few seconds, engine one recovered but a large flame was developed around the second engine. Thus the First Engineer had to shut down the engine two in order to prevent spreading of fire.
Since the flight had crossed the minimum speed to takeoff, the crew continued takeoff, but the crew was not able to do so properly with the remaining three engines as the severed cables prevented the retraction of the undercarriage. Thus the plane could not gain a speed more than 200 knots and a maximum altitude of 200 ft. The increasing fire caused the wing to disintegrate due to extremely high temperature. The Engine one surged again but failed to recover this time. Due to the uneven thrust on the flight, the flight started to bank to one side for more than 100 degrees. The crew trying to level the plane, slowed down the other two engines. This caused the flight to loose it airspeed and made it impossible for the crew to control it and the plane started to stall and consequently crash. After this crash, the use of Concorde flights for passenger transportation was stopped until the investigation of this case was done. The people to be held responsible were the ground staffs who were responsible to make sure that the runway was clear. “Experts claim the supersonic aircraft hit a piece of stray titanium from another aircraft, puncturing its tyre which set off a chain reaction that caused the disaster.”(Airline Industry Information, 2004). If the ground staff would have done inspection properly, the whole disaster could have been prevented.
Another incident occurred when the Uruguayan Air Force flight 571 carrying 45 people, including a rugby team crashed into Andes. More than 10 people died in the crash and some others by the injuries and the cold weather. But the rest was rescued after 70 days of this incident. This accident was because of the bad weather, which restricted the flying of the plane above 30000 feet. Also the whole area of the mountains was covered in clouds, which lowered the visibility of the pilot. Due to low visibility the plane crashed into a peak, which caused wreckage to one of its wings thereby taking the control out of the pilot and crashing the plane. Though the pilot was not aware of these situations, the co-pilot was. “The pilot had not been flying the plane, but the copilot had crossed the Andes before.” (Read, 1975). The copilot still could not save the plane but made his best to do so.
One of the accidents that has been caused due to mechanical failures and no crew could have avoided was the Valujet Flight 592 incident. It claimed 110 lives in that accident. This was because of some expired oxygen generators place in the cargo compartment by the maintenance contractors of Valujet. There was a small fire in the cargo compartment and according to normal procedures the fire would have extinguished itself as this was an airtight compartment and as soon as the oxygen supply in this compartment was finished, the fire would extinguish itself. But the oxygen generators produced more oxygen causing the fire to increase and escape that compartment. This caused a pressure difference aboard and made the pilot loose his control. The Fire finally spread throughout the plane. This wasn’t the fault of the crewmembers but the fault of the maintenance company. “No airline personnel made any mistakes in the operation of the plane; an oxygen generator accident could have occurred on any airline. In short, ValuJet was unfairly criticized for an accident that had nothing to do with the operation of the plane.”(Cobb, 2003)
Not only mechanical failure and pilot error, but also the acts of terrorism has proved to be one of the major causes of air crashes. One of the major victims of the terrorist attack was the Air India flight 182. This plane crashed off the southwest coast of Ireland when a bomb held in the cargo went off. Everyone aboard the flight died including 22 crewmembers making a total of 329. This was the act of the Sikh extremists retaliating the attack of the government on the Golden Temple. The bomb was kept in a bag of a passenger who did not board the flight but his baggage did. Thereafter this event certain security measures were maid to ensure that the baggage’s of any person not travelling was to be offloaded of the plane before its takeoff.
The terrorist bombing of the Pan American flight 103 in Scotland which claimed the lives of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground made the security rules mandatory in all American flights flying out of the 103 airports in the Western Europe and Middle East. New steps such as X-raying or physically examining all the checked baggage and also to increase the screening of the passengers. The authorities argued that though it may be a waste of time but still safety has its value. In fact all the advancements in safety through rules and regulations have come only as a result of loss of numerous lives and if further advancements have to be made, it can’t be done without further loss of life.
Another major aviation disaster occurred when the American Airlines flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, New York. The flight had just departed the JFK international airport and the accident occurred when the first officer overused the rudder in response to wake turbulence from a Japan Airlines 747. It claimed the lives of all 260 people aboard and also five people on ground. This was another accident caused due to human negligence. A similar situation was there aboard the Egypt air flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in the international waters. According to the report given by the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot deliberately dove the aircraft into the water. But the Egyptians deny this conclusion and say that it was a mechanical failure.
Although if we look at these accidents recently we can see they were mostly caused by bad decisions made by humans. So this brings up the question, is it the planes or the pilots that are more dangerous? As we can see from the previous paragraph, most of the crashes/accidents that happened will not happen again as necessary safety precautions have been made and the flights are equipped with certain new devices in order to prevent most of the accidents mentioned earlier. As far as the case of human errors, the planes are fitted with automated systems wherever possible but still there are certain areas where the artificial intelligence is not enough. Therefore it is right now not possible to remove the human part from the control of the flights. Maybe in future there may be a possibility of human less aircrafts.
There are certain crashes caused due to lack of concentration of the pilots. This is when pilots with huge experience do not care much and feel overconfident. One such case was in 2007, when two Air Patrol pilots with a total of 53,000 hours experience crashed onto 8000-foot mountain. This happened when one of the pilots was showing the other a demonstration of the plane itself. He did not plan the route ahead and did not pay concentration to the terrains in that area. This also happens to some of the new pilots. Some of the inexperienced pilots do not abide by the rules and cause crashes. Also distractions cause the pilots to deviate from the plan and may cause the plane to crash. It is most often the carelessness of the pilots that cause the lives of many.” Pilots sometimes skip flight planning and abbreviate checklists when they are “just doing a short hop.” (Hopkins, 2012)