Scandalous

By Murray Bourne, 15 Feb 2005

What price safety?

United flight 811 out of Honolulu on 24 Feb 1989 lost a cargo door while on climb through 22000'. This caused a large rip in the side of the aircraft and 9 passengers died.

The National Geographic doco on the incident was scathing in its attack on the US NTSB (National Transportation & Safety Board), since it covered up the vital issue of the cargo door fasteners on the 747 being inadequate. The persistence of the parents of one of the lost passengers (an engineer from New Zealand) finally forced the truth out of Boeing and the NTSB: Revised NTSB report.

Some comments:

  • Don't believe all you read
  • The comment made by one passenger, an aviation lawyer, was chilling - "The airline industry is willing to sacrifice a plane and a few hundred passengers every now and then - it is the cost of business." This followed the revelation that Beoing was aware of the door problem and had instructed owners to fit stronger catches but gave them years to do so (this was subsequently reduced to 30 days after the flight 811 incident).
  • The National Geographic doco was made by Canadians - I imagine if it was by a USA team it would not have been so critical.
  • Safety and risk are difficult to quantify - look at 9/11. But it is a very interesting field of applied mathematics. Again I say, what price safety?

See the 1 Comment below.

One Comment on “Scandalous”

  1. Tang Kim Seng says:

    I did a check at AirSafe.com which showed the Fatal Event Rates Per Million Flights for some selected airliner models, i.e. Airbus, Boeing, BAe 146/RJ100, Concorde, Fokker and Lockheed. The Fatal Event Rate is calculated by dividing the Full Loss Equivalent(FLE) by the Number of Flights in Millions. FLE is the proportion of passengers killed for each fatal event. For example, 50 out of 100 passengers killed on a flight is an FLE of 0.50, 1 of 100 would be a FLE of 0.01. Guess which airliner came up top in the list ? Concorde ! It has a rate of 11.36. Surprisingly, Boeing didn't fair too badly despite their many models and the high frequency of flying. The rate for all the Boeing models was less than 1. Airbus didn't fair too badly either. For example, Airbus 310 has a rate of 1.29. So, can we trust these figures ? I'm not sure.

    Interestingly, when I attended the Air Safety Course in the Air Force, we were told that there are many factors which could result in flight incidents ('cos accidents sound bad), i.e. pilots' misjudgment, flight operations, foreign object damage or F.O.D., bad weather, poor vision, etc.

    Would you believe if I say that the aircraft logo (or insignia) could be a cause for flight incidents ? Yes, at least some of us believed so. When AirForce decided to change to a new insignia for its whole fleet, a spate of incidents followed. Some say they forgot to bring in the priests to bless the new logo. Sounds far-fetched ? How about no flying on Friday the 13th ? Yes, I'm not joking.

    So what price safety ? For some organizations, it's 200% and counting. For others, well, if it ain't broken, why fix it ? Or don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles the passengers.

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