Plane Crashes, Accidents & Near Misses

Modified on 2009/10/15 03:10 by Nick Carroll
While air travel is generally safe, there are a number of hazards that face all of us when we board an airplane and put our lives in the hands of the pilot. From fire, to equipment failure, to acts of terrorism, air travel can be fraught with danger.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulating airline and airport security. The FAA's goal is to prevent terrorism and the transport of hazardous items and substances. In order to do so, the FAA promulgates broad security regulations and recommendations requiring each airport to design safety programs in compliance with the regulations. Such programs may employ, among other techniques, the use of metal detectors, airport security personnel, and security training courses for airport employees. However, as the Attack on America of September 11, 2001 tragically reminded us, a determined foe can overcome any security measure.

While security is a top priority of the aviation industry and government regulators, dangerous incidents can and do occur. From acts of terrorism to the increasingly common problem of "air rage", the consequences of inadequate security measures continue to present themselves. Perhaps most worrisome is the skill, or lack thereof, of airport security personnel. While most airports have full time law enforcement agents on premises, the staff in charge of manning the last line of defense, the metal detectors, are often paid minimum wage with a minimum of training and perhaps not even a high school diploma. Many security experts consider these employees the weak link in the Nation's airport security programs, fearing that the next act of terrorism or deadly incident of air rage may be due in part to staff incompetence. The events of September 11, 2001 brought change to aviation security as the Federal government took a more active role in airport security.

Another area of concern revolves around the so-called "runway incursion." The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a runway incursion as "any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in loss of separation with an aircraft taking off, intending to take off, landing, or intending to land." Many assume that once a plane has safely landed all potential danger is gone. Unfortunately, statistics show otherwise. Since 1993 the number of runway incursions has increased over 70%. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) considers this increase in runway incursions one of the ten most significant safety issues facing air travelers today.

A number of factors can cause runway incursions including pilot error (proceeding into unauthorized areas such as closed runways or taxiways), air traffic controller error (transmitting misinformation to pilots regarding ground maneuvers), and ground personnel errors (deviations by baggage carts, fuel trucks, maintenance vehicles, etc.). The consequences of runway incursions range from minor aircraft or vehicle damage to catastrophic loss of life. For instance, the deadliest air disaster in history occurred when two 747s collided on a runway in the Canary Islands in 1977 killing 583 passengers. Additionally, in October 2000 a Singapore Airlines 747 crashed shortly after lifting off from Taipei killing eighty-three passengers and crewmembers. The pilot apparently barreled down a runway that was closed for repairs, colliding with construction equipment along the way. In 2000 the NTSB stated that "the potential is still there for a catastrophic runway collision in the United States." Citing several recent near misses at the Nation's airports, the NTSB (which investigates accidents) has called on the FAA (which is charged with preventing accidents) to implement improved ground tracking methods and operational procedures to reduce the frequency of runway incursions.

As recent news stories have made clear, it is important to stay buckled-up while traveling by air. Turbulence causes an average of 58 injuries aboard aircraft each year in the United States. These injuries occur, not as the result of a crash, but rather due to violent movement of the airplane while it is airborne. Most injuries can be avoided by simply wearing a seatbelt, even when the seatbelt sign is turned off.

Turbulence is the term used to describe air disturbances that cannot be seen. Turbulence can be caused by any number of conditions including air rushing over mountain ranges, weather fronts, and even other aircraft. Pilots generally report when they encounter turbulence so that following planes can divert around the turbulence or advise passengers to buckle up. Sometimes, however, there is no warning, with turbulence hitting an aircraft suddenly. While the planes themselves are designed to withstand all but the most severe turbulence, unbuckled passengers may not be so lucky.

According to the FAA, 2002 was the safest year since 1946 for airplane travel. There were no fatalities in the United States aboard a major airliner and only one accident the National Transportation Safety Board considered serious, the crash of a Boeing 727 in Florida that injured one person. There were 300 fatal accidents involving small planes and charter aircraft.

See Also

  1. Airlines
  2. Anxiety Disorders & Panic Attacks: Overview
  3. Broken Bones: Overview
  4. Burns: Overview
  5. Dislocation: Overview
  6. Head & Brain Injury
  7. Loss of Limb
  8. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Overview
  9. Scars: Overview
  10. Spinal Cord Injury
  11. Wounds: Overview
  12. Accidents & Near Misses, Frequently Asked Questions
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