Air safety in peril, need for upgrade

The year that has just gone by was not a happy year for air traffic, with a spurt in casualties from accidents.

The crash of an AirAsia aircraft which was on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore on Sunday was the latest in a series of tragedies in the air.

It resulted in the loss of lives of 162 passengers and members of the crew. It took two days of intensive search by aircraft and ships to locate the debris in the sea. Air accidents do not usually leave any survivors and so all those on board the aircraft must be presumed dead.

There is still no clue about what happened to the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 which disappeared in flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March, and the searches were given up after weeks. While 239 people lost their lives, the shooting down of another Malaysian aircraft over Ukraine in July cost 298 lives. In the same month, a Trans Asia crash and an Air Algiers crash also resulted in the death of 48 and 116 people each.

Many commercial and military aircraft crashes in 2014 have taken 1320 lives. It is the highest death toll in a year after 2005 in which 1459 people had lost their lives in 35 accidents.

In fact, there was an impression that air safety record was improving the world over with better technology and flight practices being in use. But it is a matter of concern that many of the recent air accidents have occurred in the developing world. It is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for this because aircraft in use are much the same in most parts of the world and pilot skills do not vary. On-ground safety norms and on-air practices are also standardised, and computer-controlled action and response systems reduce the scope for pilot errors also.

But accidents still occur and it is for aviation experts to analyse the reasons, whether they are technological, logistical, procedural, human or others, and recommend measures to reduce accidents in the air.

Very often it is a combination of factors which cause an air crash. In the latest case, AirAsia has had a good safety history;  the aircraft, Airbus 320, is among the best and the pilots were experienced. But the air space was crowded and the weather was inclement. What actually caused the crash may only be known later. But each accident is a reminder of the need to improve the standards and practices progressively and completely eliminate the risk in air travel.

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