- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 108 Hour
- Reading permission
This image released by the US Navy shows containment and absorbent booms surrounding a Boeing 737 aircraft in the St. Johns River after the aircraft slid off the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida on May 3, 2019.
After a long trend toward greater safety in air travel, there has been an uptick in airline accidents and deaths in 2018 and 2019.
Many aviation experts regard that recent increase as a statistical blip, however. They note that accidents and deaths remain a fraction of the numbers from as recently as the 1990s. Advances in aircraft and airport design, better air traffic control, and improved pilot training are often cited as factors in reducing accidents.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to zero accidents, but aviation is still the safest it’s ever been,” said Seth Young, director of the aviation program at Ohio State University.
In the US, no airline passengers were killed in accidents from 2009 until April 2018, when a woman on a Southwest Airlines jet died after an engine broke apart in flight.
Worldwide, there were more than 50 fatal airline accidents a year through the early and mid-1990s, claiming well over 1,000 lives annually, according to figures compiled by the Flight Safety Foundation. Fatalities dropped from 1,844 in 1996 to just 59 in 2017, then rose to 561 last year and 209 already this year.
Nearly half of the airline deaths in 2018 and 2019 occurred during the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia. In each case, investigators are examining the role of flight software that pushed the nose of the plane down based on faulty sensor readings.
That raises concern about safety around automated flight controls, said William Waldock, an expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“Pilots are not being trained as much as pilots as they are system operators and system managers,” he said. “So when something happens and the automation fails, they get flummoxed.”
Safety experts see little immediate connection between other incidents such as the deadly weekend crash of a Russian plane that caught fire after an emergency landing in Moscow and the case of the charter airliner that ran off a Florida runway into a river; no one died in that one.
Investigators probe crashes in search of clues to prevent more accidents from the same cause. In the case of the Aeroflot jet that caught fire, killing more than 40 people onboard, attention is likely to turn to Russian media reports that lightning disabled the plane’s communications system and whether pilots should have burned off fuel before the emergency landing.
Lightning strikes are not uncommon. In the US alone, there are about 25 million every year, according to the National Weather Service. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said airline planes get hit about once a year on average.
Planes are built so that the fuselage acts as an electricity-conducting shield, keeping the voltage away from passengers and critical systems. The jolt is often dissipated off wings or the tail. Critical electronics have surge protection. Nitrogen is used to reduce the risk that electrical arcing could spark a fire in a fuel tank.
Newer planes like the Boeing 787, which uses carbon composite material instead of aluminum, includes fine wiring in the wings to direct current off the plane, said John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at MIT. “They should be designed to take a lightning strike,” Hansman said.