January 4, 2005 - U.S. Airlines Have 34 Deaths In 3 Years
WASHINGTON (USA) - Only 34 people have died in U.S. commercial
airline crashes in the past three years, making it one of the
safest periods in aviation
Chairman Conners, NTSB
Marion Blakey, FAA
history even as more Americans than
ever travel by air.
On Oct. 20, a Corporate Airlines twin-engine turboprop crashed
into the woods on approach to the Kirksville Regional Airport in
Missouri, killing 13 people. Those were the only fatalities
aboard U.S. scheduled airlines for the year.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Ellen Engleman
Conners, noting that some 42,000 people die every year on the
roads, said, ``I hope all modes of transportation could
replicate aviation's safety record.''
The last U.S. crash of a jumbo jet was Nov. 12, 2001, when
American Airlines Flight 587 lost part of its tail and plummeted
into a New York City neighborhood, killing 265 people. Safety
investigators concluded that the crash was caused by the pilot
moving the rudder back and forth too aggressively, which put
more pressure on the tail than it could bear.
Last year, the number of fatal accidents per 100,000 departures
was .015. Air travelers are estimated to have boarded planes 685
million times in 2004, a 3 percent increase over 2000, the
previous busiest year, according to the Air Transport
Marion Blakey, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration,
said new technology has improved safety. For example, many
planes now have systems that warn pilots if they're about to fly
too close to the ground.
Jets and turboprops manufactured after March 29, 2003, are
required by federal regulations to have a so-called Terrain
Awareness and Warning System. All other planes with more than
six seats must be retrofitted with the devices by March 29,
The plane that crashed in Missouri in October was months away
from being outfitted with a terrain-warning system that might
have prevented the accident.
On the ground, 34 major airports have been equipped with systems
that warn air traffic controllers of a potential collision on
runways. One of the worst aviation disasters in history involved
two jumbo jets that ran into each other on a runway in Tenerife
in the Canary Islands in 1977, killing 582 people.
Weather radar and wind shear alert systems also have helped
eliminate accidents caused when planes encounter concentrated
downward bursts of wind on approach to the airport.
Safety experts agree that better training and awareness of
safety issues have played a big part in making U.S. skies safer.
A key effort has been the FAA's formation in 1997 of the
Commercial Aviation Safety Team, which set the goal of reducing
fatal aviation accident rates by 80 percent by 2007. The
accident rate has fallen 50 percent since then, and is on track
to meet the goal, said FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette.
As part of the CAST project, airline unions and management,
along with federal agencies and manufacturers, are collaborating
on identifying safety problems and solving them. Among the 85
safety improvements CAST is working on include:
Teaching pilots how to recover from unusual flight conditions
that could be dangerous.
Developing tougher standards for icing-prevention technology on
Establishing new procedures for air traffic controllers to
prevent collisions on runways.
Blakey said such cooperation hasn't always been the norm.
``At an earlier point in aviation's development, there was less
incentive, less willingness to be candid about problems,''
Though pilots often are at odds with their employers, they do
agree that airline management shares their commitment to safety.
Paul Rice, vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association,
said airline executives realize that safety enhances the bottom
``If there's a big plane crash, people stop flying,'' Rice said.
Rice points to a change in federal regulations, which took
effect Dec. 14, 1995, as a key development for aviation safety.
On that day, all commercial air carriers - from commuter planes
with 10 or more passenger seats to jumbo jets - were required to
follow the same safety rules for operating. Before then planes
with 30 or fewer seats fell under less stringent regulations
than bigger aircraft.
Echoing the caution of many safety experts, Bill Waldock,
aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University in Arizona, characterized the past few years as ``safer,
Waldock noted much was made of the fact 2002 ended without a
single person dying in a commercial airline accident. Eight days
into 2003, 21 people were killed in a plane crash in Charlotte,
``When we have a real safe period, people get complacent,''