Airlines need to stick to their promise - it's always safety first, profit after
That old saying, 'There’s no such thing as bad publicity’, probably applies to what the aviation industry has flown through in recent months.
The shooting down of Malaysian Airline MH-17 over a conflict zone in July and the spread of the Ebola virus in some parts of Africa, to mention few instances, have focused more attention on airline routes, destinations and security measures taken.
Airlines are offering more details related to their operations. Even passengers are showing more interest in knowing the nitty-gritty of the flights they plan to board.
This strikes at the root of passenger confidence in airlines. Many have been concerned enough by recent events and are interested to know more simply because they are ones who will eventually pay in all cases, ranging from a rise in ticket prices to any unforeseen mishaps.
But disasters involving carriers are not new. There have been several incidents of civilian aircraft being shot down or blown up. Among the many well-remembered incidents are two incidents that happened in the same year.
On July 3, 1988, an Iran Air flight 655 from Tehran to Dubai was shot down by the US Navy’s guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes. The incident took place within Iranian airspace and over Iran’s territorial waters. All 290 on board died.
The incident, considered among the deadliest in aviation history, came before the end of the war between Iran and Iraq just days later.
In December the same year, Pan-Am Flight 103 blew up as a result of a bomb on-board. All 243 passengers were killed as 11 others in the ground when a large section of the craft crashed on Lockerbie, Scotland. (The airline subsequently went bankrupt in 1991 and some of its assets was bought by another American carrier, Delta.)
Yet, no stringent measures were taken in a way that matches those that followed the shooting down in July of the Malaysian Airline by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. All 298 people on board died, and investigations are still ongoing.
Shortly afterwards, there was more than one incident of military jets escorting civilian planes after threats to the flights’ safety. In another rather unusual instance, a fist-fight between the pilot and a member of the cabin crew caused a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to be delayed for six hours.
Several airlines have announced a halt in flights to destinations in Africa after the Ebola scare. Many have stopped flying on routes directly over “unstable” regions, including northern Iraq and Syria.
Such a stream of announcements from airlines is unprecedented. Is it because passengers are much more aware of developments and the environment in which they take place? Is it because carriers don’t want to lose out on flyers at a time when competition is sky-high?
It could be both. But what is confirmed is that the aviation industry is still fairly solid on its numbers. Nearly 3 billion people flew on 36.4 million flights last year. In July this year, there were 2.9 million scheduled flights and 395 million scheduled global airline seats.
According to recent media reports, the annual average for the first four years of this decade was 21.5 air accidents with fatal outcomes. The annual average in the 1970s was 40, almost twice as many.
Last year, there was one fatal accident for every 1.9 million flights, which was better than the five-year average of one per 1.6 million flights.
All this does indicate flying is still a safe way of travelling ... but airlines need to keep reassuring passengers this is so.
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