In a day that saw two high profile aviation accidents in the US, one involving a Delta Airlines commercial jet skidding off the runway after landing at a busy New York Laguardia Airport in snowy weather, coming to a halt just short of the icy waters just beyond the end of the runway, and the other a private PT-22 vintage aircraft piloted by Star Wars and Indiana Jones superstar Harrison Ford, crash landing on a Santa Monica golf course, the topic of aviation safety and reliability once again found itself front and center on North American news networks like CNN Thursday March 5.
This follows a very active 2014, which resulted in 8 commercial aviation accidents worldwide, some of which, garnering mega media coverage all around the world, such as the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, almost a full year ago on March 8, the shooting down of yet another Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine on July 17, and then on December 28 AirAsia flight 8501 goes down in stormy weather into the waters off Borneo.
The private (or general) aviation sector had its own share of highly publicized accidents as well. In Gaithersburg, Maryland in the USA a small Embraer jet crashed into a suburban home on approach to the runway, killing all three people on board and three more on the ground. In January of this year a 7 year old girl walks away as the lone survivor after her families Piper PA-34 twin engine aircraft crash landed in Kentucky killing her entire family.
Now, in the case of MH370, which has yet to be found, and is believed to have gone down somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean – a fact which has still yet to be confirmed – there is no available data to determine a cause for this tragic incident. MH17 was an unfortunate victim of miss identification, and wound up in the flight path over top of a conflict its passengers and crew had no stake in, was shot down by a surface to air missile.
Now as anyone who has involvement with the aviation industry knows, commercial flight is by far the safest method of transportation, even with such highly profiled tragedies. Clearly the vast majority of commercial air disasters are the result of extremely rare and extenuating circumstances. There is the swiss cheese effect, where all those random holes come together to create a perfectly linear path to allow an unfortunate and unlikely outcome.
There are stringent rules, regulations, and standards governing commercial air operation, spanning every aspect of the industry, from meticulous maintenance schedules , ground and flight operations, air traffic control, even inflight safety and hospitality. All established to keep the flying public safe and the industry viable.
But what about the private sector of aviation? With an estimated 2000 private and general aviation accidents recorded every year in the United States alone, is there reason for concern that safety and quality may be slipping through the cracks?
Yes, privately owned and operated aircraft and the general aviation industry are regulated, and there are certainly standards, and an expectation of quality and safety to be maintained and adhered to. But with the vast majority of aviation accidents stemming from privately owned small to medium sized aircraft, operating under the general aviation regulation, should there be closer attention paid to assuring methods of quality, safety and adherence to standards are enough?
Now, of course there is a numbers game to be considered here, and with the sheer numbers of privately owned aircraft operating under the general aviation classification, sharing the skies and operating out of small and often uncontrolled airfields , maybe it makes sense that there would be a sizeable difference in the number of incidents.
Could it be that due to the nature of the industry, in that every pilot must begin there aviation career in the private and general sector in order to gain experience. Could it be atributed to this lack of initial experience for new pilots or that many small aircraft are operated by enthusiasts with very little flight time or training?
Another consideration could be the enormous cost involved to adequately maintain a state of airworthiness for any aircraft regardless of the size or complexity, or the lack of redundant systems to fall back on in the case of a mechanical failure.
Whatever the reason, should there be cause for alarm. Should we be concerned about the 2000 plus small aircraft incidents that occur every year similar to the latest involving Harrison Ford? Is there a need for better quality and safety standards in both how an aircraft is maintained and its operation?
What do you think? Leave a comment and share your views on this topic.
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