Many people travel by airplane all around the world. For some people it is the only way they can get to where they are going. On a daily basis, averages of 28 to 30,000 seats are filled on airplanes (Bear, Stearns Co. URL www.hotelonline.com). At each airport, there are hundreds of arrivals and departures worldwide. Even though airline officials say flying is safe, accidents kill many people because airlines neglect to prevent human error or repair faulty equipment.
Sometimes I think the only reason an airplane could crash is if something on the plane were to break. However, most of the time that is not the case. A survey conducted by Boeing found that flight crews were responsible for at least seventy-three percent of all fatal airplane accidents. (Gray 17). Forty-one percent of these accidents occurred during landing because of unstable approaches. Also an investigation by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the causes of airline accidents revealed that more than eighty percent of all airline accidents involved some degree of human error (Helmreich 62). This is very alarming when people are putting their lives in the hands of flight crews. Forty-four passengers died aboard a new British Midland 737 after its crew shut down the wrong engine after the other one malfunctioned (Greenwald 40). Do you really think that flying on an airplane, over which you have absolutely no control is very safe?
Reasons for flight crew error can be explained by the conditions under which they are flying. Flight crew fatigue is a largely increasing problem on many of the jumbo jet flights today. Although there are laws that prohibit cockpit crews from sleeping in flight, there have been many weary pilots that have been known to nod off on occasion during some of their seventeen hour, non-stop flights (Urquhart 15). Perhaps laws should regulate the number of hours a flight crew is in the air instead of prohibiting sleep in flight. Another condition, alcohol abuse, has been found to inhibit the abilities of some flight crews. A northwest crew flying from North Dakota to Minnesota was found to be intoxicated on the job (Air Safety 61). Some people refuse to drive at night because of the number of drunk drivers on the road. Would passengers want a drunken pilot to be responsible for their lives while 20,000 feet up in the air?
Another reason for flight crew error is pressure to meet flight time schedules. Some of these flights take place during hazardous weather conditions. When I was younger, I saw an airplane crash at the St. Louis Airport after the pilot was ordered to take off even though the plane had ice on its wings. The airplane skidded off the runway because the pilot could not control the steering mechanisms on the icy runway. Other incidents have occurred solely because of bad weather and an urgency to stay on schedule. When flight 803 came in to land at Tripoli, the pilot decided to land the plane even though a dense fog covered the runway. One hour earlier a Soviet jet scheduled to land at the same airport detoured to another to avoid the fog. There were no mechanical malfunctions of the plane; however, it missed the runway by more than a mile, cartwheeled, and slammed into two farmhouses (New Qualms 20). Another accident, which killed most of the passengers on board, occurred when an Air Florida Boeing 737 crashed into the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. in 1982. The speed gage for take off was covered with ice which caused the takeoff acceleration to be miscalculated (Helmreich 62).
The most avoidable reason for an airplane to crash is faulty equipment that could have been repaired or replaced. A cargo door and part of the outer layer covering tore away from a nineteen year old Boeing 747 shortly after leaving Hawaii, sucking nine people out of the plane and sending them to their deaths over 20,000 feet to the sea (Greenwald 40). Investigators determined that the cause of this disaster was a single faulty door lock. This insignificant door lock could have been replaced many times so that such a disaster and loss of life could have been avoided. Who is taking responsibility for these problems? Where are the maintenance crews and safety inspectors whose responsibility it is to prevent these accidents by repairing and maintaining the airplanes? In 1979 shortly after take off from a Chicago, Illinois airport, American Airlines DC-10 lost its left-wing engine (see picture next page: URL http://www.tstonramp.com/-kebab/w79052.5htm). The engine smashed against the plane, tearing out the hydraulic lines that connect to the rudder that steers the plane. Ultimately the plane crashed killing all 273 passengers and flight crew aboard. All DC-10’s were then ordered to be inspected, but five weeks later the planes were sent aloft without the inspections ever taking place (New Qualms 20).
There have been many incidences in the past of certain models of airplanes that seem to keep having mechanical malfunctions. Despite events that have caused suspension of faulty equipment in two recent crashes of the Boeing 747, nobody has penned the mainstay of International Air Transportation- the 747- as unsafe (Nelan 52). One eight-year-old 737 had one engine completely fall off the plane after leaving Chicago O’Hare Airport (Greenwald 40). The plane did return safely.
The average age of an airplane fleet is thirteen to fifteen years with close to 20,000 flights. Because of the need to replace these worn out planes, many airline companies are buying new planes as fast as they are being manufactured. This means that the large manufacturers that build airplanes are trying to produce more planes faster so that airlines can buy planes from them. In a race to meet the demands of the airline companies, manufacturers are not checking or testing their planes for faulty equipment before sales take place. Boeing, one of the largest jet-building companies in America, has been fined for more than $245,000 in quality control errors. They were found to be putting faulty parts in exit doors and using self-locking nuts that were defective (Greenwald 40).
Safe or not? Although there are a lot of examples of flight disasters caused by human error and faulty equipment each year, there has been an eighty percent decline in the number of fatal airplane accidents since the 1960s (Shrontz 40). Getting to some places throughout the world depend solely on air travel; therefore, people must trust their lives to flight crews, safety inspectors, and maintenance crews and believe that all problems are being addressed and corrected.
1. Bear, Stearns, Co. Internet Connection. URL www.hotelonline.com
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