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[P]
Understanding Aviation

By zapb42 in Culture
Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:10:21 AM EST
Tags: Focus On... (all tags)
Focus On...

There are those few uninformed that spread ill will about commercial aviation. As is the case in just about anything, people who have no understanding of something love to pick it apart. I'm sure we all know someone who refuses to fly. Their reasons most likely include "I just don't feel safe on those things." The fact is, really, that airline travel is exceedingly safe, and becoming ever safer.

I will try to explain exactly why this is. I'd also like to introduce general aviation, and relate what I know about the future of air travel. It is a sad fact that the general public knows very little about aviation, and yet has so much to say about it.


The airline industry has had its setbacks in the past few years, and also a pretty turbulent (uh oh) economic history. When the general public thinks of the aviation industry, they think of airlines. Most people have no problem entrusting their lives to some people they will never meet on a highly sophisticated piece of machinery run on a tight schedule flying at altitudes way outside of any frame of reference they might have. But then there are those that do have a problem with flying.

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, the already important security aspect of airline travel became much more in the public eye. I'd like to talk about how this has affected the industry, and exactly what kind of risks the public should be aware of. The fact is there are many alternative measures terrorists could take. The fact that they used airliners in these prominent attacks merely allowed the media (always horrifically inaccurate with and apathetic to aviation) to build aviation up in the public eye as some kind of terrible security hole.

I'd better explain my background to put all this in some context. I am a commercial aviation major at the University of North Dakota. This is a degree program for a B.S. in aerospace sciences.  This basically means I have been studying the industry for the past three years. It does not mean I am an expert, but I believe I am much more informed than John Q. Public about aviation. I have been a pilot for many years, and come from a deeply aviation-oriented family. I hold a commercial pilot's certificate for multi-engine aircraft, with an instrument rating, and am currently training to become a flight instructor. My first rating was for gliders, which I started flying when I was 14 and I got my rating when I was 16.  I would highly recommend that, its a fun and very cheap way to fly.

The airline industry has been highly regulated, with good reason, throughout its history. In 1978, it was greatly deregulated, in the sense that government control was given up and the airline industry was then "exposed to market forces" like any normal industry.  Deregulation is explained in detail here, but the gist of it is airlines were free to set their own fares and routes. They did not like this.  They now had to compete with other airlines, and this competition was fierce. Prices for tickets came down, but in order for the airlines to afford this, all the wonderful amenities and services they once offered had to be given up. You used to always get a full service meal, drinks, etc., sit in basically first class, and be attended to every moment of the flight by an army of attractive stewardesses. At least that's my impression, go ask your granddad about it for a more accurate account.

Granted there are still some luxury oriented airlines, but today we see an industry where most travelers buy based on ticket price, and an airline seat is more of a commodity. The most competitive airlines are those that offer low fares but maintain a pleasant flying experience with what sparse amenities they offer, like Southwest, AirTran, and many others. Regional airlines, due largely to technological advances in "smaller" aircraft that now largely use turbine engines, are growing faster than many if not all of the major airlines.

The airlines' success depends very heavily on the economy. When the economy suffers, airlines suffer. They have always struggled to be profitable, but especially after September 11th, they have had a particularly hard time. Many long-standing majors have either folded or declared bankruptcy. This is augmented by the fact that new security concerns have also negatively impacted the industry.

As far as safety goes, airlines have always had a fairly high level of safety compared to other modes of transportation, and into the 70's and beyond especially, safety has been incredibly high. Numbers of accidents each year has greatly declined, and major causes of accidents have generally shifted from equipment failures to pilot error.  The equipment is incredibly safe these days, but as in anything, it is very hard to work out the human error aspect. If you want to see some numbers, look here.

Transport category aircraft are safe beyond belief. This fact escapes a lot of people I have talked to, who are under the impression that airliners are under the same kind of maintenance program as, say, the city bus, or something. First of all, the design of any airplane that will carry passengers has to go through a process that can take years before the manufacturer can even build any.

The design itself incorporates a bewildering array of safety features. These aircraft are very, very strong. They can withstand unbelievable stress over many years of service. They are designed to have more power than necessary for normal operation, and can climb out after an engine fails after takeoff, even with a full load. This is a regulatory requirement. The engines themselves are extremely reliable and put through some pretty crazy testing, like throwing sheets of ice and other things through a test engine.

Every vital system on the aircraft has at least one backup. In most cases there are more than one. Transport aircraft have equipment to deal with ice that can form on the wings and other parts of the aircraft. There are many sources of navigation available. There is weather radar, terrain and traffic avoidance equipment, and plenty of other safety equipment on board. It is also important to note that there is always at least a second pilot, the first officer, and on some older aircraft, a flight engineer too, on board actively participating in the flight.

Just a side note I'd like to add to that is that people seem to think that if the airplane loses an engine, as in if it quits for whatever reason, it is a major problem and the airplane is probably going to crash. This is not the case. The passengers would probably hardly notice if an engine quit, besides the change in sound. If all the engines were to quit, which is very unlikely, the airplane is still not going to crash. There is a possibility it will have to make an off-airport landing, which can be done safely, but when you are at 35,000 feet you have a lot of time and a lot of options. The airplane is not going to drop out of the sky.

Maintenance of transport airplanes is strictly regulated. In my view and that of the regulatory body, the FAA, airlines do comply with these regulations.  The NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, is an independent agency charged with investigating transportation accidents, including aircraft ones. (See their site for more accident information.) Whenever there is an airline accident, they spend a tremendous amount of time (and our money) to determine exactly what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. The result is that the same problem will rarely cause two accidents.

But they don't just wait for something really bad to happen before doing something. There are many programs to identify areas of safety risk so that they can be caught before they cause an accident. The industry is constantly working on safety issues, and changing its training and operation to optimize safety.

To become a pilot, you have to go through quite a lot. I am at the very beginning of that process. I think people generally understand this, so I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say the training, and retraining for proficiency involved makes sure there are nothing but good pilots out there and that they stay good pilots.

All this basically adds up to the proven fact that flying on an airplane is safer by at least an order of magnitude than driving your car to the airport. So why do we hear about air crashes all the time? Well, how many car accidents are there every day? Quite a few in every population center, many fatal. It is such a common occurrence, however, that even in cases where people die, the media does not find them important enough to cover. When an airliner crashes, it is a much rarer thing. This makes it a media event. Of course, the potential for many more people to be injured or die in one incident is there, but overall, many fewer people are injured or die in aircraft accidents each year than die in automobile accidents. This only serves to increase media attention on these cases. What magnifies this and gives people the idea that flying is not safe, however, is the media's complete ignorance and total unwillingness to actually learn the facts. Why is that? Well, the general public is kind of the same way, and the media tells you what you want to hear so you'll like it.

An airplane crashed. Someone's immediate reaction might be, "airliners are unsafe, they break so easily." I don't know if that is an actual sentiment, but I believe it is a good example of one. What they are looking for on the news is something to justify that view, so the news says, "this crash was probably due to a structural failure because airplanes are susceptible to damage," or some such thing. The viewer is satisfied, and he tells his friends "I told you!" I know this is a great generalization, but I believe it is representative of the kinds of things I have heard, and how the news seems to approach all subjects.

Basically I want to say the media has a terrible effect on the public's knowledge and opinion of aviation.

Honestly I am not incredibly familiar with the details of security. I do know, however, that even before September 11th, security was already very high due in major part to the hijackings that occurred in the 1970's and also to other terrorist attacks. It is only that much higher now. Despite all the negative press about the effectiveness of security, it is actually quite effective. There is also only so much you can do. There has to be a compromise between efficient air travel and really long security lines for complicated security checks. People will always find a way to do bad things. This is not to say "let it happen," but to say that we have to choose between being able to conveniently fly to where we'd like, and not being able to do so. There are other industries with similar unavoidable but minimizable vulnerabilities; it is unfortunate that terrorists decided to choose the one they did.

Efficient airline transportation is vital to the economy for many reasons. This is why the government has such an interest in it. People like to complain about it, but the fact is that it will continue to be around. The form it takes, though, may change in the upcoming decades.

The current system is kind of like a subway system. There are trains that come at a certain time, and you can pick which one but you can't pick the time. You have to get to the station, because the train does not go to your house, and you have to get off at a station that is close, but not at, your final destination.  You probably have to stop at interim stops that have little to do with your final destination. Airliners are much like this. Most air travel occurs between large cities in mid-size aircraft.

As I mentioned before, smaller regional air carriers are growing. The trend, at least domestically, is to smaller aircraft operating between mid-sized cities through a larger city, which is a hub, but a smaller hub than in the past.

This is despite the fact that Boeing continues to sell huge aircraft for long hauls, usually internationally, and that Airbus is going to start building the A380 double-decker jumbo jet in the next few years, which may or may not be a good idea (that's an ongoing debate.) Domestically, though, some people envision a system (far in the future) that would correlate to taxi service. Air taxi services do exist in this country, but not to a large extent, using existing 4-10 seat (around that) aircraft.

The new Eclipse 500 is a small, 6 seat super-efficient jet that would be produced in fleets to provide point to point service on demand. While not a proven concept, it is one idea that is out there. Would it not be great to drive to the nearest airport, often within 15 minutes of most people's homes, which no longer would have to be a huge airport, and for the price of an airline ticket, hop in a small airplane with just your family and perhaps a business traveler or two, and fly directly to the airport nearest your final destination? This could be the future of air travel, or something like it, with a more distributed system of point-to-point travel. There are many challenges to get to a system like that, so who knows.

Which brings us to general aviation. There are a couple of different sets of flying rules out there, and basically anyone not flying under the airliner regulations or is in the military is participating in general aviation. There is a lot more of this than people realize, and it is a much larger part of the economy that most people realize. If these Eclipse jets or something like it go into service, the interesting thing is, because of their size, they would most likely be operated in the general aviation realm.

This doesn't mean they won't be safe. The regulations still call for strict maintenance, etc. It will just mean that general aviation will grow substantially. The airports these airplanes fly into will be GA airports, not big ones. It will be interesting to see.

What does GA do for us right now? Besides corporate jets, air taxi operations, and other passenger carrying operations, GA involves carrying cargo, surveying land, checking pipelines, and many other things. Police helicopters, air ambulances, and fire-fighting aircraft are GA. A growing number of people are in flight training (that's me). Then theres people who fly airplanes for fun, or just to travel. A lot of people do this, and it is a great community. Regulations recently went into effect to allow people to fly very small, low powered aircraft unders certain provisions for recreation, and makes aviation much more accessible to everyone.

The future of GA is all about technology.  Already in recent years, the avionics (instrumentation, navigation systems) have improved vastly, making operating and navigating an airplane (arguably) a lot less work. New airplane designs like the ones Cirrus builds have come onto the market. It is a time of significant change in a lot of ways.

In the future, it should be even easier.  NASA has been working for a while on the SATS and AGATE programs, designed to allow high density small-aircraft transportation, and also easy navigation for everyone. It involves integrating the aircraft systems and air traffic control with computer automation. One of SATS' more visible features is the use of "highway in the sky" displays; basically on a display in the airplane or a heads-up display it will put boxes or gates for you to fly through. This and AGATE are meant to produce better small airplanes for use in transportation or just flying around. In my Eclipse example, SATS is probably similar to what it would end up using if the airplane were used in the way I described.

So that's basically what I'd like to see the public know about aviation. It bothers me that, like I said, people love to talk about it, and do not know much about it usually. People should be more willing to seek understanding of things when they are important, rather than making assumptions and trying to sound smart about it.

I see a lot of dedicated people in the industry. It has a way of weeding out safety risks, including people that cause them, and hard as it may be, I think the public needs to trust these people to do their job, because I know they will.

For more information, check out: How Safe is flying today? which I basically repeated a lot of, but he has written a more thorough piece on this topic, and done a really incredible job at it.

Also, be a pilot! It is great fun!

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Understanding Aviation | 107 comments (83 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting topic, some issues (none / 0) (#3)
by boren on Fri Oct 29, 2004 at 09:37:36 PM EST

Random thoughts:

I'm not sure I would get onto trains.  Then again, I don't think trains work in the US, but that's just me.

"Air taxi"  service has some guys at NASA working on it.  SATS/AGATE web page is: http://sats.nasa.gov/  Link would probably help the article. Honestly I don't think it'll fly, but he's got some interesting research and ideas.  I like the idea, but I can't get past the problem with security.  They also have valid points, A380 is too big, something is going to change.

Eclipse is a lot of hype, I wish them luck. but much hype.   There's more to GA than biz/fractional jets, and cargo haulers. There's also fun. Might not sound fancy or win sympathy points, but there's a lot of guys with their own private planes burning holes in the sky.  With sport pilot we can only hope it will grow.  (little sceptical)

You seem very concerned about how scared some people are to fly.  You can tell them how safe it is all day, but that's not going to help.  Basically, you sit in a
tube, you make a lot of noise, it "bounces" and almost like magic it jumps into the air.  You can't see the air flowing over the wings making lift or how you get up 35,000'.  You seem to hang there like magic.  While you turn over complete control of your life to some guy sitting up front who's already been flying 12 hours today.

Maybe I'm wrong?  If you're going to do a piece on airliner safety I would stick more to that.  Intro to GA needs more than you give it. imho.
---

www.geekfarmlife.com -- The ongoing story of two geeks that left California for a farm in rural Indiana.

good idea(s) (none / 0) (#4)
by zapb42 on Fri Oct 29, 2004 at 09:51:45 PM EST

see my next post, and thanks!

[ Parent ]
Air safety (none / 1) (#17)
by jd on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 12:45:01 AM EST

Yeah, well, there's not a whole lot of new stuff in this article. It is very well established that flying is relatively safe. It has been for some considerable time.

Personally, I think those in the airline industry don't help matters by playing up the safety statistics, though. People are generally suspicious of statistics, as they can be abused so easily.

Nor does it help that airlines try to stretch every dollar to the last. Cramming aircraft with seats, thus largely blocking the wing exits, largely negates the benefit of having those exits there. So called "Economy Class Syndrome" (where air passengers can die from sitting awkwardly and not getting enough exercise) also doesn't help. Especially as, instead of encouraging passangers to exercise more, many airlines deny there's any problem at all.

Denial really doesn't help the image. Charging overweight passengers double doesn't do much in the PR department, either. Nor have the multiple bankrupcies in the US.

These are all blatant examples of crass stupidity and blatant mismanagement on the handling of customers. It doesn't reflect safety, though. Unfortunately, the PR side is all most people see. Given the choice, news stations are going to cover fiascos over the latest safety technology.

Today, many aircraft are fly-by-wire, with considerable computer aids in preventing pilots from doing stupid things. Regulations in Europe and the US enforce very high safety standards in maintenance. (Although, some airlines simply moved maintenance overseas, to avoid the costs involved in having higher standards.)

Safety can always be improved. Bomb-proof cargo containers exist, for example. Fuels which are less likely to explode have been developed, although they're not widely used. Improving the design of seats would improve the odds of surviving a crash or mid-air explosion.

So why isn't all this being done? Well, largely because there's no real push to improve safety much further. It's a case of diminishing returns. Most of the really useful stuff has already been put in place. The return on further dollars spent is increasingly small, in an industry that is overcrowded and underfunded.

The other problem is that accidents, when they do happen, are often something unexpected. The only Concorde to ever crash did so, not because of any failure of the aircraft, but because the flight that took off before left some debris on the runway. It had never occured to anybody that debris could pose that great of a hazard.

(Mind you, given how crowded airport runways often are, it likely still hasn't. I do think that's something airports need to be a little more careful on.)

The only thing that really bothers me in aviation, though, is the politics. Boeing vs. Airbus, for example. Boeing complains Airbus gets subsidies, when Boeing not only gets subsidized themselves, but also get commercially sensitive information via the NSA on their European rivals.

The dangers posed by politics (eg: harassment, favoritism, Government-aided industrial espionage, etc) are all infinitely more serious and infinitely more likely to pose a real danger than the combined threats of accidents and terrorism combined.

Instead of investing in anti-missile technology (which probably won't work and which adds a lot of unnecessary complexity - which invites failures), I'll tell you a much cheaper way to improve airline safety. Make photo-ops for politicians illegal. Politicians who turn serious issues into political ammunition to coerce voters to their "side" should spend the next six months at the South Pole. If the only way to get heard is to get things done, we might yet see a politician put in an honest day's work.

I agree (none / 1) (#21)
by zapb42 on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:52:31 AM EST

There are a lot of things that go on that do end up detracting from safety, but they are all carefully calculated. It definitely would be better if flights were not crammed, etc., but I guess that is the state of the industry.  And you seem to agree with that.  I got a little carried away with "airplanes = safe because ... ... ..." type stuff.

I also agree about the statistics, which is why I didn't get too carried away with them. They are easily abused, but at least in this case they are truthfully accurate, in that you have a greater chance of dying walking down a busy street or something than you do sitting in an airliner.

You made a lot of great points I wish I had thought of. Basically there's a lot more airlines/manufacturers could do to really maximuze safety, but it is at such a high level that they would not be cost/safety effective (however is best to put it.) And politics is definitely bad for this industry, for sure.

[ Parent ]

Computers not always helpful (none / 0) (#85)
by tarpy on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 12:58:55 PM EST

Today, many aircraft are fly-by-wire, with considerable computer aids in preventing pilots from doing stupid things.

I disagree that the addition of more computers has made flying safer, and the crash of AA591 near Cali, Colombia is a perfect example of problems associated with them (especially from a human factors perspective).

Looking at the transcript of the CVR, we see that the pilot and co-pilot had trouble getting the right flight beacon into their navigational computer...the result, they put the wrong beacon into the computer, and flew their 757 right into a mountain. 159 of 163 people aboard perished.

2140:34 Captain: Come to the right, come come right to Ca... Cali for now, OK?

2140:35 First Officer: OK.

2140:40 Captain: It's that [expletive] Tulua I'm not getting for some reason.

2140:44 Captain: See I can't get, OK now, no, Tulua's [expletive] up.

2140:48 First Officer: OK. yeah.

2140:49 First Officer: But I can put it in the box if you want it.

2140:52 First Officer: I don't want Tulua. Let's just go to the extended centerline of uh....

2140:55 Captain: Which is Rozo.

2140:56 First Officer: Rozo.

2140:56 Captain: Why don't you just go direct to Rozo then, alright?

From the NTSB transcript (via avweb.com)


Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
[ Parent ]
Wrong flight # (none / 0) (#86)
by tarpy on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 01:00:07 PM EST

I mean AA965, not 591, don't know where my brain was when I was typing.


Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
[ Parent ]
excellent example (none / 0) (#90)
by zapb42 on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 02:57:08 PM EST

In the program I am in we go through extensive human factors and crew resource management training, and we see tons of accidents like this. The thing about that fact that should not be missed is that we obsess over these reports to make sure it never happens again. Sometimes it does, but the liklihood is far less.

[ Parent ]
Airbus-style Fly-by-Wire (none / 0) (#98)
by jd on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 08:45:27 PM EST

The Airbus' computers automatically control the engines and controls so (in theory at least), if an Airbus pilot were to make the same error, the aircraft would automatically take control and avoid the mountains, long before the aircraft strayed so close to the mountains that it was in actual danger.

In the example you gave, once the terrain warning kicked in, the autopilot and other aids switched off. Unfortunately, the crew didn't have enough time or information to react.

Now, I'll agree that computers aren't the whole answer. Indeed, the first Airbus to sport self-preserving controls crashed when its programming got confused. (The pilot made a low pass over a forest. The computer misidentified the terrain as a runway and shut down the engines.)

However, pilot error is a big factor in a lot of crashes. Another Airbus crash, in Birmingham, was caused by a mix of mechanical failure and pilot error. The mechanical failure resulted in an engine fire. The pilot then shut down the wrong engine. The aircraft nearly ended up on a motorway (the UK version of an interstate).

The Concorde crash is a difficult one to call. The decision by the pilot to fly to a different airport to make an emergency landing was probably not a good one. Well, duh. But it is questionable as to whether they would have been able to make an emergency landing at the airport they took off from. It depends on the air traffic, the size of the airport, windspeed, etc.

The recent report on the Airbus that lost its tail also attributed the problem to pilot error. The crew put too much stress on the tail. Although the automatics didn't save that aircraft, it should be very easy to rig up a stress guague which limited the forces that could be placed on critical components, preventing the pilot or copilot from breaking things.

[ Parent ]

some things (none / 0) (#101)
by zapb42 on Wed Nov 03, 2004 at 01:15:22 PM EST

I'd just like to input that newer Boeing aircraft have a lot of fly-by-wire systems, too, but not to the extent necessarily that Airbus aircraft do.

The recent Airbus crash involved a lot more than everyone might realize. We have been discussing it with our professors for the past few days, and from what I gather, it was a combination of things.

Yes, the pilot used too much input, but nowhere in his training was he told "you can't do that" because it did not occur to anyone that someone would go full rudder deflection one way, then full the other way, which is a perfectly normal thing to do in the small, tail dragger airplanes this first officer was familiar with flying.

The Airbus rudder pedal design for the 300 is different from most other models. The rudder pedal travel is much less. In a frentic situation, it is difficult to overcome reflexive actions.

Also, there was some discussion about the fly-by-wire control of the rudder, but I don't remember what that was...and something about the allowed rudder travel at that speed exceeded the design limit of the airplane.

Another big issue is the flight recorder. Airbus has it sampling one sample per second. This might sound sufficient, but the rest of the industry has much higher data sampling rates. Between each second, we really have no idea what inputs the first officer were actually making.

So, as the NTSB concluded, the pilot controlled the airplane incorrectly, but understandably so. I believe the fault is shared by the manufacturer and training program.

[ Parent ]

I'm inclined to agree (none / 0) (#104)
by jd on Thu Nov 04, 2004 at 05:07:23 PM EST

First off, if you're going to design a system that prevents a pilot/co-pilot from making mistakes, you are implicitly conveying to the crew that anything they can do is going to be safe. Thus, you've got to be damn sure that you don't miss common behaviours which don't translate to the A300's.

Secondly, although Airbus claim they notified the various airlines of the potential problem with the rudder, if they had to notify people at all, then it was not in the instruction handbook.

So, I do have to agree that Airbus is at least partially responsible. It seems self-evident that there was much more they could have done, and should have done, on many levels.

As for the one second sampling, I've never been a keen proponent of sensor sampling. You're usually much better off with an event-driven system, so every change in the system is logged, and then time-stamping those changes. Most of the time, you're not doing anything, so sampling is creating an unnecessary load. I don't know what type of tape is usually used on Black Boxes, but I'd have thought that any tape of any kind would deteriorate each time you cycle through it, so cycling through it less would give you the best possible quality.

But when you do have lots of events, you want as many of them to be recorded as possible. In an emergency, or especially in a disaster, you want as much information as possible. One second might not seem a long time, but when you're going 500+ MPH, one second is a sizable distance travelled and therefore scope for a lot of events.

[ Parent ]

modern flight data recorders (none / 0) (#105)
by zapb42 on Thu Nov 04, 2004 at 10:50:33 PM EST

Your idea definitely makes sense, but air crash investigators really want all the data they can get.

There are tons of parameters that are continually changing. Pitch, bank, and roll angle, temperatures, pressures, control deflections, power settings, and on and on.

Modern FDR's, and I am assuming the one on this airplane, record something like a few hundred parameters continually. And us technology-minded types would probably be interested to hear that they no longer use tape, but instead, solid-state non-volatile memory. This is encased in a shock-absorbing, fire retardant gel insulation, and then encased in that armored shell (and painted orange, to make it a black box.) What kind of memory it is I forget, maybe flash type or something.

Your idea would work awesome with this, but, since they have the ability to record so much data, investigators and the FAA want to take advantage of that and record the continuous data continuously. They could do it event-based...like ignore parameters that aren't changing much, go into an "oh crap we are crashing record everything" mode, but these kinds of things add complexity. In aviation, even though it might not seem so, unnecessary complexity is not wanted. Each additional function is another thing that can fail and cause bad data, or the loss of data, etc.

That is my view of why they do it thataway, anyways.

[ Parent ]

Airbus-style Fly-by-Wire (none / 0) (#99)
by jd on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 08:45:54 PM EST

The Airbus' computers automatically control the engines and controls so (in theory at least), if an Airbus pilot were to make the same error, the aircraft would automatically take control and avoid the mountains, long before the aircraft strayed so close to the mountains that it was in actual danger.

In the example you gave, once the terrain warning kicked in, the autopilot and other aids switched off. Unfortunately, the crew didn't have enough time or information to react.

Now, I'll agree that computers aren't the whole answer. Indeed, the first Airbus to sport self-preserving controls crashed when its programming got confused. (The pilot made a low pass over a forest. The computer misidentified the terrain as a runway and shut down the engines.)

However, pilot error is a big factor in a lot of crashes. Another Airbus crash, in Birmingham, was caused by a mix of mechanical failure and pilot error. The mechanical failure resulted in an engine fire. The pilot then shut down the wrong engine. The aircraft nearly ended up on a motorway (the UK version of an interstate).

The Concorde crash is a difficult one to call. The decision by the pilot to fly to a different airport to make an emergency landing was probably not a good one. Well, duh. But it is questionable as to whether they would have been able to make an emergency landing at the airport they took off from. It depends on the air traffic, the size of the airport, windspeed, etc.

The recent report on the Airbus that lost its tail also attributed the problem to pilot error. The crew put too much stress on the tail. Although the automatics didn't save that aircraft, it should be very easy to rig up a stress guague which limited the forces that could be placed on critical components, preventing the pilot or copilot from breaking things.

[ Parent ]

Seat design. (none / 0) (#106)
by wumpus on Sat Nov 06, 2004 at 02:55:18 PM EST

The bit about " Improving the design of seats would improve the odds of surviving a crash or mid-air explosion." makes me suspicious. There is a well known way to do this - face the seats backwards. While in the US I can imagine a serf-buisness-class crammed with seats facing the wrong way (don't laugh - a few deep pocket court settlements and it could happen), no traveler with any control over his flight will ever use them (there are two sets of seats in a C5 military cargo aircraft. The VIP seats up front (facing front) and the GI seats way back, facing backward. The GI seats are far safer though.)

Wumpus

[ Parent ]

Perhaps I'm Too Skeptical (2.00 / 4) (#18)
by Peahippo on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 12:56:32 AM EST

Firstly, the general public has nothing to do with aviation since the barrier for entry is incredible. Only the wealthy can afford to become familiar with it as a hobby. (What's the cost of flight training now, about $150/hr? How many file clerks and cashiers can afford such a thing?) The rest are simply industry participants ... they are either full- or part-time aviation workers -- loaders, administrators, pilots, radar operators, etc.

We may as well speculate how many Americans aren't that familiar with General Agriculture. The barriers there are equally high, since farming is a vast enterprise, and you have to make a major life change to get involved (move, buy land and equipment, etc.). Most Americans don't understand agricultural issues at all, either ... yet that's not much of a threat, at the first level of approximation.

Secondly, "safety" is a much over-used buzzword, hence it signifies essentially nothing. All the safety measures in the world aren't going to help you when your government pulls an "oops" and shoots down your airliner, a la TWA 800 or KAL 700. Also, all those "safety measures" are a well-known thorn in the side of private flyers, since the increasing yearly load of regulated instruments just adds weight and expense to their aircraft. Flying is inherently dangerous. You can fall out of the sky, and might even land on a family of four in their home. You cannot remove the risk of falling at high speed into a family home.

We should get over our Liberal obsession with making things "safe". The obsession part of this desire merely ends up causing bizarre accidents that "no one foresaw", which leads to more intrusive regulation, more heavy equipment, more hours of training, etc. Then another quirky accident happens.

Aviation is the playground of corporations and the wealthy. Other than hauling freight and people on demand, it really has no intersection with the populace. Hence, in a very important sense, we shouldn't care all that much about it other than general oversight (which the American public does quite poorly at, BTW, regardless of issue or industry).


I see your point (none / 0) (#20)
by zapb42 on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:43:56 AM EST

Aviation is not very accessible to a lot of people, that's true. I think awareness of how it works has some value, though, as does awareness of a lot of other industries. I am not saying the future hinges on everyone running out and becoming experts on this, I would just like to see a little more understanding of it out there.

One point I was trying to make was that safety is not just a buzzword in this industry, at least not as much as it can be in other places. The stakes are just too high. The airlines are on financial edge as it is without the accident rate starting to go up. Pilots and other people in the industry are constantly working towards preventing accidents, not just enough that they remain profitable, but so that as few people as possible get hurt. As hard as it is to believe, for the most part we (all pilots, others in charge) really are dedicated to this. You don't have to believe this, but this is my observation of the industry I am moving into.

It is an obsession for us to attempt to be safe, because it has to be. I guess what it is is the way we treat the term, which is more of reducing or eliminating risk whenever possible, not just trying to make it seem or feel safe. You hit it right on the head, that flying is inherently very dangerous. But with technology and so forth we can reduce that risk to a minimum.

One thing too, and I don't want to start some huge debate on this, but for at least TWA 800 for sure, there is nothing in the world that would convince me that the airplane was shot down. I have spoken to one of the NTSB board members personally about that, and seen the evidence, and incontrovertibly the evidence points to the center fuel tank exploding because of bad wiring and jet fuel vapor at high temperature.  Absolutely no evidence of explosives was found anywhere on the wreckage, nor was there any evidence at all of where a missle may have entered the airframe.

People see a lot of things; we tend to put a lot of credence on eyewitness acounts, but many of these contradicted each other, even when two people were in the same place witnessing the explosion. The aircraft was, at the time, 13000 feet in the air, and I am not sure exactly, but at least 5 miles off of the Long Island coast, giving a pretty decent slant range on something that, visually, is very small at that distance. Some witnesses people site were in Connecticut, like 30-50 (not sure) miles away. A whole book could be written, of hard, proven facts, as to why the NTSB investigation yielded the actual cause of the crash.

People can say what they want and make any kind of theory up they want, but the real, existing evidence will discount these.

People like to do this with a lot of accidents, but my point is, they like to come up with ideas like this, at least sometimes, because of lack of understanding. Which is the point of my article.  People will go on believing whatever they want, and I understand this, but maybe there are people who really would like to know some more about aviation before making conclusions.

Maybe I am wrong, but at least my colleagues would agree with me.

[ Parent ]

Gawd, It's Early (none / 0) (#27)
by Peahippo on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:22:41 AM EST

It's too early to get all into this, but I'll try my best in the short time I have this morning.

There's no need for a huge debate about TWA 800. Just from what I can recall from exposees from the reporters whose reports were smeared and killed by the official investigation, the facts are clear: the issue was covered up. The NTSB merely colluded with (1) inept FBI and (2) pointedly evasive military experts, hence we have an offical version which in no way matches the fact that the airliner was struck by a missile fired from the ocean surface, probably by a ship, probably less than 10 miles from the plane at impact.

The first lie told by the government was particularly telling. Government: "There were no nearby military exercises on July 17th 1996."

Fact: The MOA (106?) was active during that time. An active military operating area means that an exercise is underway. Radar tracks on the ocean surface show at least THREE vessels at about a 10-mile range. Reporters finally discovered these radar tracks 2 years later, proving that the government had lied to them (as they continue to lie, by stating that the closest military assets to the plane were a helicopter and a ship, about 100 miles away). But in those 2 years, the official version had soaked up the first lie, hence it gained primacy. But it's still a lie.

Government: "No evidence of explosives were found."

Fact: What little testing for explosives that was allowed, did find traces. The government tried to wipe even these away by stating that those traces must have been left from a bomb-detection exercise conducted on the plane a short while before. This is rather amusing since, again, reporters accepted it as truth until years later one reporter went digging. The final answer is that this "exercise" was conducted on paper, but all possible witnesses (pilots, attendents, etc.) claim it never happened. Hence, more lies from the government. (And further testing of residue were denied by the NTSB, despite those interesting red stains (no, it wasn't glue, since the 3M glue claimed is green, not red) on all those seat covers in the vitally important blown-out section of the airplane.)

Wow, I remembered a lot more than I thought I would have this morning.

You are completely uninformed about the shootdown of TWA 800 since you simply accept the official story, and that's undoubtedly because you can't even conceive that your government would (likely) accidentally shoot down an airliner and then attempt -- then succeed -- in avoiding responsibility for it.

To this day, the FBI continues to assert that it doesn't know the identities of the 3 ships whose radar tracks were on the ocean at that time, and it particularly doesn't know the ID of the 1 ship that soon took off out of the area at 30 knots after the shootdown. That ship took off since TWA 800 was shot down.

Look, let's appeal to your common sense: Only a complete fucking lunatic would accept that out of over 600 witnesses of all types collected by the FBI, with about 150 clearly stating they saw a flare of light lift from the ocean surface and form a fireball at about the plane's height and location in the air, that those ~150 people are "wrong" and can be removed from consideration. Only an official story can remove these witnesses, but it also removes the truth.

Go read some books for a change that actually challenge the official story. They're real eye-openers. Try the book "Into the Buzzsaw", which was the latest one I read (about reduced effectiveness of the press, but had several stories about TWA 800 as anecdotes).


[ Parent ]
what I know (none / 1) (#29)
by zapb42 on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 08:30:58 AM EST

I'll concede I don't know everything about the situation.  I guess I'll just relate what I do know, not to argue or take a side, but maybe to share something new.

I do know that the NTSB, with help from TWA maintenance and maybe others, were the ones to actually investigate the wreckage, according to my understanding. These are great guys, they have solved some really tough cases. Former board members attest to the independence of the agency. Their argument for that is along the lines of congress and the president and his administration keep an eye on each other so that neither one tampers with the NTSB.

John Goglia is a former board member, and he was one for many years, including the time of the 800 investigation, and was the person I actually spoke with. "Board member" doesn't mean he was excluded from the hands-on examination of the wreckage; he actually did a lot of that.  It was the final opinion of himself and his colleagues that an explosion took place around the center of the center fuel tank, empty because the airplane did not require the fuel to get to its destination. It costs money to carry extra weight, etc. All the signs in that area showed these very experienced investigators that this is what happened, and they proved it with double-blind (maybe wrong term) laboratory testing. This caused the nose section to seperate, etc.

The only wiring in that area is 1V wiring for fuel level measurement, not enough to cause an explosion.  However, the NTSB took another 747, happened to be one serial number off of flight 800, looked at this wiring, and found that it had been abraded by a poorly designed/manufactured wiring mount, and that fuel had met with the exposed metal wiring.  Well, after digging around in the electrical system, tracing these wires up to the right side of the fuselage, where a lot of bundles meet to go up to the flight engineer's station, they found that the insulation around some of these bundles was rubbed off or missing...I am not sure why exactly, but the wires were exposed.  And, some other fuel-related wiring, this at 120V AC, was able to contact the bare 1V wiring, allowing a short circuit, and current to be applied to the other wire.

They took another 747, this one operational, in similar conditions to flight 800 on the ground (location, temperature, time sitting around with empty center tank) and found that the fuel in that tank had reached some temperature, not sure of exact number, high enough to cause it to vaporize (above flashpoint?) and that it would cause a vapor-rich environment in that tank.

So, the conclusion was drawn that there was an ignition source and fuel for an explosion in that tank, a lot of little things adding up to a big problem.  The way the baffles in the tank and the walls of the tank are bent (really heavy aluminum) reflects this explosion, as do the terrifically bent and damaged keel-beam situated under the tank. It may not have been enough to break the airplane in half, but was enough to overstress the structure and aerodynamic forces finished the job.  Designers don't allow for a sudden expansion of the fuselage.  The location the pieces of debris were found was mapped out carefully, and correlated to this, the pieces around the sepration falling first, spreading out the most because they had the most energy, including pieces directly under the tank, then the nose and related pieces falling after that, and then the rest of the airplane falling into a smaller area.  Which probably would have been the same if it were a missle, I guess.

I would find it very difficult to believe that these men were somehow bribed or extorted somehow by the FBI, just from knowing what type of people they are. They had full access to the wreckage, and were not kept from it or anything.  Again, I have not read tons about the whole thing, this is going on what I know, which includes that the NTSB would not publish definite findings of this type without firmly believing in it through tons of data and evidence.

About MOA's, from experience flying around them, when they are "hot" it is an indication that they might be being used, but depending on which one it is, some of them have certain regularly scheduled active times during which they may or may not be "hot." I'm not saying this discounts what you said, just relating what I know.

About the indications of explosives, what I was told by Mr. Goglia, very strongly, is that they (NTSB) were not able to find any indication of explosives. It would be very hard to remove these indications over the wreckage of a whole airplane, I would think. There was a lot more intact airplane left than a lot of people I have spoken with seem to realize. I choose to believe what he said, simply because I know his reputation and methods.  If something was done outside of his control, who knows?

I guess my uninformed opinion in the matter is basically that there is evidence to support both sides, and that a lot of the evidence pointing towards the missle etc. side I have been presented with does not strike me as quite as solid as that of the other. I'll admit that from what I heard from the press, (but then again the press is another deal entirely,) it sounded like something else happened that wasn't out in the open.

If you want to hear what Mr. Goglia has to say about it, his email address may be available, I dunno. I put a lot of credit in what he told me mainly because it was face to face, and not as a third party.

I guess I did end up taking a side, but I realize I could never totally defend it.  But if I can't trust the NTSB, I am going to need a career change, so that kind of binds me to it.

I also apologize in advance if none of mine makes any sense, its some awfully late (or early I guess) hour.

[ Parent ]

Too bad (none / 1) (#36)
by cdguru on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:20:15 PM EST

Your comments make sense, and the NTSB likely did their job and did it correctly.

Unfortunately this makes no impact on the nutjobs that insist the evil, malicious Bush Administration covered up the military shooting down TWA 800.

Ooops. It couldn't have been the Bush Administration, since this occurred in 1996. So it must have been people left over from 1992. Or, people getting ready for 2000, just a little early.

Nope, there is no dissuading nutjobs from their being absolutely sure that this was something perpetrated by the military. And, in most cases, Bush has to have something to do with it as well. Reality has no place in their universe.

[ Parent ]

Only flaws I can see.... (none / 0) (#69)
by ckaminski on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 09:52:01 PM EST

  1.  Your source is a high level member of the agency in question.  Likely to be a primary conspirator in "ignoring certain signs so as to arrive at a realistic but yet inaccurate conclusion".
  2.  That the "alleged" missile string was primarily external to the vehicle (as some missiles explode in the vicinity of the aircraft), caused a crack in the tank which led to vaporization and the subsequent fireball or short circuit (related but not causal) caused the actual destruction of the fuel tank.
Since I've never seen evidence first hand, I have gone through and concocted silly and possibly inaccurate explanations for what admittedly looks like (but not necessarily is) a really bad coverup.

Peace.

[ Parent ]

I'll agree with that, (none / 0) (#70)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 10:16:57 PM EST

Something went fishy with the whole thing.

But this guy was genuine in my opinion, and obviously I can't prove that...it's a pilot thing maybe. He really cares, and I doubt he would jeapoardize the integrity of the investigation, but hey I guess it's always possible.  As is the missle exploding outside the tank, but there were so many signs to the contrary, it's still hard for me to take that, as it still would have been obvious where the source of the original explosion was, but there I go again talking like I am an explosives expert, so take that as uninformed opinion, too.

Holy run-on sentence, Batman!

In any case, something bad went down, and due to the poorly handled (by FBI, in my opinion) investigation, we may not know exactly what that is.

[ Parent ]

Pilots DEFINITELY have a vested Interest.... (none / 0) (#68)
by ckaminski on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 09:42:43 PM EST

They are the first to hit the ground, afterall.


[ Parent ]
Bullshit. (none / 1) (#35)
by cdguru on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:09:45 PM EST

Firstly, the general public has nothing to do with aviation since the barrier for entry is incredible. Only the wealthy can afford to become familiar with it as a hobby. (What's the cost of flight training now, about $150/hr?

A number of people where I used to work got into a airplane club. This is where 20-30 people pay to buy an airplane. Yes, if you pay for it yourself renting time it costs around $3000 to get a single-engine aircraft license. This isn't all that much, really. If you then want to go it alone and rent a plane whenever you fly, yes, you are looking at $100-$150 an hour.

But only the indelibly stupid would do such a thing. Look around your area and find an airplane club. They are always looking for more members. Yes, airplanes are expensive to buy, but the costs can be shared among many members.

No, general aviation is not out of reach. Join a club, be active and get your license. In most cases the club will help out a great deal just in getting your license. It is an incredible experience.

[ Parent ]

What's Liberal got to do with it? (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by student on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 10:44:52 PM EST

I do agree that people have an irrational obsession with airline safety.  Maybe everyone who is affraid to fly should be offered a trip to space?


Simon's Rock College of Bard, a college for younger scholars.
[ Parent ]
Yet again a misconception (3.00 / 2) (#50)
by boren on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 02:46:35 PM EST


[cite]
Firstly, the general public has nothing to do with aviation since the barrier for entry is incredible. Only the wealthy can afford to become familiar with it as a hobby. (What's the cost of flight training now, about $150/hr?
[/cite]

Learning to fly can be very inexpensive or very expensive it depends on what you want to do.  If you want to enjoy aviation you can learn to fly a power parachute for a price anyone can afford.

If you want to fly more traditional planes it'll cost a bit more.  Someone can easily buy a plane for the cost of a car these days.  Why do I drive a beater? So I can own a nice plane.  No one I know who flies is rich.

Cost to fly my plane is $45/hour, and I do 175mph.

Food for thought.

---

www.geekfarmlife.com -- The ongoing story of two geeks that left California for a farm in rural Indiana.
[ Parent ]

What a crock. (3.00 / 2) (#53)
by AirFrame on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 03:42:55 PM EST

"Aviation is for the corporations and the wealthy." (paraphrased)

Sure.  Tell me that again while you drive your ATV's or Snowmobiles or 4x4's off into the wilderness for the weekend.  Or while you hop in your speedboat or sailboat for the weekend.  Or while you drive your RV off for a vacation.  If you can afford any of these, you can afford to fly.

When people ask me what it costs, I tell them that everything I needed for my pilot's license cost me about $100/week for a year (canadian dollars).  In Canada you can get a recreational license now for about 2/3 of that, but you'll be restricted to only one passenger, and only fying during the day.  Or you can get an ultralight license for about 1/3 of that, but you'll be restricted to no passengers and a simpler airplane.

How many file clerks and cashiers can afford such a thing?

More than likely, the same number who can afford any other hobby.  I know trash collectors, bus drivers, machinists, teachers, engineers (myself), doctors, lawyers, and commercial pilots (active and retired) who fly privately.  But when you're all sitting around a table with a cup of coffee at the airport, your profession melts away... You're all pilots, talking about the same things.

[ Parent ]

Gliders = cheap alternative (none / 0) (#71)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 10:22:29 PM EST

Like they said, it isn't that impossible to get into flying. But if you have no money like me when I was  in high school, go find a soaring club and fly gliders. They will be more than happy to accept you and give you instruction. I can't remember exact figures, but it was less than $50 for a two-hour flight. I got my glider rating for well under $1000, less than I paid for all the other recreational type crap I was doing those years.

I may write an article about soaring, though it may not be an interesting enough topic for this site.

[ Parent ]

Attitude to risk (none / 0) (#78)
by gidds on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 05:17:05 AM EST

"safety"... signifies essentially nothing. ...Flying is inherently dangerous.

In those terms, nothing is safe. Even living is inherently dangerous! As someone once said, you take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

What are the chances you could die in a building collapse, lightning strike, earthquake, tornado, gas explosion, meteorite strike, carbon monoxide build-up, poisonous snake bite, or tsunami? Very tiny -- but non-zero. However, most of us don't spend our lives in mortal fear of such things, because we assess the risks, and consider them too small to worry about (apart from preventative measures where appropriate). In short, we're treat them rationally.

There are much much much more likely causes of death, such as heart attack/failure/disease, cancer, stroke, car accident, AIDS, suicide, pneumonia/influenza. They're so common that we don't like to think about them -- and that they don't make the news.

Compared with those big killers, the risk from aircraft disaster (whether accidental or due to terrorist or other deliberate activity) are tiny. According to one site, of those in the US who died of an external cause in 2001, only about half of one percent died of air- or space-travel related causes. And even that total is a small fraction of the total deaths.

In short, people's fear of flying is irrational -- greatly out of proportion to the very small risk it entails. You're right that there's no such thing as total safety, but there are other things people should be worrying about instead.

Andy/
[ Parent ]

What happens when all of the engines fail? (2.50 / 2) (#19)
by CwazyWabbit on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:25:46 AM EST

This link tells you. It's been doing the blog rounds recently.
--
"But here's the thing: if people hand me ammunition, what kind of misanthrope would I be if I didn't use it?" - Sarah-Katherine
Good example, (none / 1) (#22)
by zapb42 on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 04:59:17 AM EST

and one of those we hear about all the time in classes.  This is one of the rare cases when all the shit hits the fan, and shows that even then there are provisions to improve the chances of the airplane.  Not every contingency can be planned for, obviously, but training and quick thinking can save the day.

It is also of particular interest because I am a glider pilot, I guess.  AND because it took place in Manitoba, right north of here.

[ Parent ]

Thanks for the link (none / 0) (#28)
by Psychopath on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:40:30 AM EST

I really enjoyed reading this story. Impressive!
--
The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain. -- Karl Marx
[ Parent ]
Gimli Glider pics (none / 1) (#51)
by boren on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 02:59:42 PM EST

http://www.airliners.net/search/photo.search?regsearch=C-GAUN&distinct_entry =true

C-GAUN was recently retired, but here's the plane and how it's been in service for the last 20 years.

There was a TV drama done,  I think it was on CBC or CTV about 10 years ago.  I can't find any thing on a quick google search.  The scariest part of the movie is when they asked "what's the glide ration when both engines are shutdown?"  There was no answer since it had never been done.

A couple of years ago another plane over the north atlantic ran out of fuel after a fuel leak and then a fuel transfer by the crew pumped all their fuel out of the leak.  After a 20 minute glide they landed.
---

www.geekfarmlife.com -- The ongoing story of two geeks that left California for a farm in rural Indiana.
[ Parent ]

Or... (none / 1) (#84)
by tarpy on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 12:46:46 PM EST

you get AirTransat 236.


Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
[ Parent ]
Airline paranoia (3.00 / 3) (#37)
by six volt on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 06:03:22 PM EST

I think those people don't like planes because of the nature of aircraft mishaps, not the probability.

As a passenger, you are helpless. If the pilot's having a really bad day, you're gonna have a really bad day whether you like it or not. If there's a problem, you can't just slam on the brakes, or hit the emergency stop button, and hitch a ride with the next guy.

When the plane takes off, they might panic at the idea that their fate is sealed for the next few hours.

So, I propose a theory. If you are thrilled when a plane takes off, you are a wonderful person. You're the kind of person that can change the world for the better. If you're uneasy, you're a fucking control freak. If you want to help humanity, then go commit suicide.

HTH.

-I want to be this guy.-

Its not just that... (none / 1) (#45)
by Pxtl on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 01:06:24 PM EST

Its the knowledge that, if something goes wrong, everyone knows what its gonna be like.  In a car, it'll be up to 4 seconds of screaming and panic before you ram into something you might all walk away from. Plus, you know who's driving.

In a plane, it'll likely take longer, and you'll be surrounded by the screaming cacophony of hundreds of doomed strangers, and you're gonna fucking die - there's not much chance of walking away.  The helpless magnitude of it is freaky.

Its that wonderful knowledge - yes, its unlikely that anything will go wrong... but if it does, all that oxygen and lifejacket stuff is just for show.  What they really need is a little light on the ceiling that says "make peace with God".

That's why people are afraid of flying.  By comparison, a car wreck doesn't seem that bad a way to go.   Plus, you can get away without stepping in a plane - a car is inevitable.

[ Parent ]

Caveat (none / 1) (#82)
by fishling on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 11:30:01 AM EST

So, I propose a theory. If you are thrilled when a plane takes off, you are a wonderful person. You're the kind of person that can change the world for the better. If you're uneasy, you're a fucking control freak. If you want to help humanity, then go commit suicide.

Please do not follow this advice if you are the pilot. Well, no one should, but especially if you are the pilot.

[ Parent ]
Many rambling points (2.33 / 6) (#38)
by Sven on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:28:11 PM EST

I'm sure we all know someone who refuses to fly.

No. Maybe it's only paranoid Americans. Your whole analysis is very US-centric.

Regarding safety statistics, I accept that airline travel is very safe. However, all the statistics that back this up seem to refer to numbers of fatalities. People drive a lot more than they fly, so I don't think it's a fair comparison. How safe is flying for one hour compared with driving for one hour?

I do know, however, that even before September 11th, security was already very high due in major part to the hijackings that occurred in the 1970's and also to other terrorist attacks. It is only that much higher now.

I think the appearance of increased security is far greater than the reality. Many of the new security measures seem to target foreign nationals in the US. We're fingerprinted, we're patted down even when the metal detector doesn't go off. We get the dreaded SSSS on our boarding passes. Air Canada has just started promoting direct services from Australia, with one of the benefits being not having to go through security in the US. The implementation of the new security features leaves a lot to be desired.

In Australia, we've also been subjected to increases in security, though far less intrusive. It all seems very inconsistent and random - sometimes shoes and belts have to be removed, sometimes not. Laptop batteries have to be taken out. Occasionally you get randomly tested for explosive residue in SYD. But all these security features are only in place at major airports. You can get on a plane in a regional centre with no security at all, fly to a major centre, then board a much larger plane for a transcontinental flight. The security measures are all about appearances.

that Airbus is going to start building the A380 double-decker jumbo jet in the next few years, which may or may not be a good idea

With slot restrictions starting to come in at many airports (I'm thinking Heathrow in particular) it had to happen. Airlines are paying millions for a landing slot, so they have to maximise their use. With such a huge capacity, the A380s aren't for everyone, but they will prove very useful for long haul flights.

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense

Actually a good thing (none / 1) (#48)
by John Miles on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 01:33:00 PM EST

It all seems very inconsistent and random - sometimes shoes and belts have to be removed, sometimes not.

I noticed this the first few times I flew after 9/11, and (apparently mistakenly) thought they were deliberately keeping the bad guys guessing.  After all, if I were a terrahist, what I would worry about most of all is things not going the same way as they did during my rehearsal.  

Nowadays though, at least in the US, the screening procedure is highly standardized and predictable.  You can tell in advance if you're marked for screening, via a stamp on your boarding pass.  (Supposedly; I haven't witnessed this personally.)  Not a good thing if we're supposed to be serious about security.  Almost any safeguards can be worked around if you know what to expect.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Not quite the stat you want... (3.00 / 2) (#52)
by AirFrame on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 03:26:27 PM EST

How safe is flying for one hour compared with driving for one hour?

What you really want to know is number of accidents per passenger mile.  Flying places is about going places, and the alternative is ground transport.  So compare over the distance, not over the duration.  Flying for 1 hour at 350mph vs. driving an hour at 50mph is quite different.

So (# accidents)/(# passengers * # miles travelled) is the number to compare.

[ Parent ]

ok (none / 0) (#61)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:15:11 PM EST

I am sure the same correlation would be made, but you are correct.

[ Parent ]
proportion (none / 1) (#87)
by PigleT on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 02:28:13 PM EST

> I think the appearance of increased security is far greater than the reality. Many of the new security measures seem to target foreign nationals in the US.

Probably. The question comes in when real security increase exceeds perceived increase exceeds sheer inconvenience to the masses.

Of the millions who would like to take a set of nail-scissors with them on holiday a year, just how many more are likely to use them for "terrorist purposes" than would have 5 years ago?
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]

i no longer trust pilots (1.12 / 8) (#41)
by Liberal Conservative on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 12:52:36 AM EST

how do we know that pilots aren't 'whoring' themselves out to the highest terrorist bidders who want private flight lessons so they can aim for another 9/11 disaster?

i think all pilots should be given extensive background tests

all pilots should have their bank accounts monitored

we must close down at least 1/3rd of all pilot schools

flying is expensive and unless you have your own plane your intentions at taking a flight class are severely suspect

i just want the best for my country

i want the best for our world

let's get the faa to keep a tight wrap on who can pilot aircraft

miserable failure

signed,
   liberal conservative

you caught me (none / 0) (#62)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:28:09 PM EST



[ Parent ]
You are completely mad <eom> (none / 0) (#64)
by stigger on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:37:41 PM EST



[ Parent ]
WoW (none / 0) (#67)
by Aviator on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 09:02:03 PM EST

Mr. Liberal "Conservative", It is my belief that you have not given much thought to any statement you made in your post. While you are lobbying for the government to spend our tax dollars on performing background tests for pilots, monitor bank accounts, etc.... The terrorist you speak of is spending $30 on Flight Simulator 2004 and learning how to fly. While you just cost the tax payers millions upon millions of dollars trying to monitor pilots and bank accounts, which a terrorist doesn't even need. Once again, thank you for wanting the best for _our_ country. -- An aviation enthusiast

[ Parent ]
Cattle (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by Djehuti on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 09:08:19 AM EST

Actually, most people I know who don't like to fly (including myself) dislike it not because of (arguably imaginary) safety issues, but because commercial airliners are fscking uncomfortable.

Air travel, at least in the USA, is incredibly inconvenient, annoying and uncomfortable, unless you do it often enough that you earn enough airmiles to get the perks like first-class upgrades, special check-in lines, etc.

Being herded like cattle onto a cramped plane to sit in an uncomfortable chair in a noisy, badly-climate-controlled environment for several hours is just plain not my idea of fun.

You touch on this when you mention the granddad's account of flying. I don't ask to be treated royally as in that description, I just ask to be treated like a human being.

Exactly: Cattle (none / 1) (#43)
by hansel on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 12:47:19 PM EST

The word "cattle" exactly captures my feelings about flying.  You're herded about in a mass of bodies, continually confined to holding pens or tiny seats in the airline's quest to move ever larger numbers of passengers from A to B to achieve economies of scale.  The individual is obliterated in the process, and surviving a lengthy trip anywhere with your sanity and emotions in good order involves gritting your teeth and suppressing your irritation with the entire process.

I can't say that I blame the airlines for trying to do this--they're businesses, after all.  But because of this, I don't like to fly, and try to avoid it whenever I can.

[ Parent ]

I agree, (none / 0) (#60)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:13:31 PM EST

For a complete look at airline travel I should have included something about this fact. I wasn't really thinking about it I guess, but it definitely is not comfortable to be an economy class passenger on an airliner. Long flights, especially are a test of human endurance for sure.  I have not done too many of those, except once to Hawaii and back and once to Japan and back...pretty amazing. The free beer I somehow got made it better!

But anyways you guys are right.

[ Parent ]

also true (none / 0) (#59)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:06:18 PM EST

This would be the one thing I hate as a passenger, even though I am not that old I remember it being a better time when I was a kid, probably because I was smaller and fit in the seat.

Especially in these times, the unfortunate fact is, airlines can not make money without getting a lot of passengers on board in most cases.  Hopefully things will improve someday.

[ Parent ]

Safe versus Unsafe on an Airplane (3.00 / 3) (#44)
by DoorFrame on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 12:59:50 PM EST

I probably took five to ten round trip flights last year within the United States, and I don't like flying.  There's a level of fear involved with every take-off, cruising, and landing that I really don't enjoy.  I hate it when people throw the numbers of car crash deaths versus airplane deaths at me as an argument to not be worried... it's not about that.

The issue is that an airplane death, to me, seems so much more horrible than a traffic fatality that the comparison has always seemed kind of insulting.  I can deal with the idea of two cars colliding, or being crushed under a toppled tanker truck, or being clipped while going through a crosswalk.  These deaths are obviously horrible, but they don't compare with the potential horror of death in an airplane crash.  

In an airplane, you almost never just die.  If airplane deaths were all caused by airplanes, in mid-flight, suddenly crashing into mountains, I wouldn't be bothered.  That's a death I can deal with.  What I don't want, and I what I think most people fear, is the fall.  I don't fear dying, I fear falling to my death.  Almost every crash has a period of time, often lengthy, where everybody knows they are going to die, and yet they're stuck in a giant metal tube with nothing they can do and a hundred people screaming around them.  Possibly there's something on fire, or a gaping hole in the side of the plane to only make things worse.

I can't think of a much more horrible way to die than to fall for two minutes from 6 miles up locked in the damned tube with a bunch of people from Peoria who know they're going to die too.  Yuck.

So, yeah, although planes may not be more dangerous on an objective level than cars, the potential death is so much worse that it makes up for it.

Offhand... (none / 1) (#47)
by John Miles on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 01:25:07 PM EST

I can't think of a much more horrible way to die than to fall for two minutes from 6 miles up locked in the damned tube with a bunch of people from Peoria who know they're going to die too.

I can't think of many plane crashes that would be described by that scenario. The Alaska MD-80 that went upside down a few years back off the California coast would be the closest case (and the scariest) I can imagine. EgyptAir 990 would be a similar case, but the suicidal pilot at least tried to make it quick by nailing the throttles. Most crash victims seem to die from concussion, fire, or smoke after a screwed-up takeoff or landing, not after several minutes of terror. Not really that different from your typical tanker-truck wreck.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Some others (none / 0) (#49)
by tarpy on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 02:35:00 PM EST

I agree that the Alaska Air crash is most like the scenario that the writer describes. In fact, that same fear is at the root of my abject fear of flying...and I fly a bit (just honeymooned in Australia and New Zealand from Chicago, just over 23K miles with all nine flights). I have to take Xanax (1.0 mg, 1/2 hour before boarding) to just get on a plane.

There's a couple more that need to be added to this list:

US Airways 427 (1994)
TWA 800 (1996)
Aloha Air 243 (1988)

Although it is true that the rarest form of crash is still the uncontrolled breakup of the airframe in cruise.

Landing and take off are by far the most stressful time on the airframe. I remember about 4 years ago landing (at Heathrow) being on a BA 757 and we went through the wake turbulence of a 747 about 30 seconds after it had been there, and I thought we were going to buy the big one. Even the steward who was sitting in the backwards seat in front of me got a little white knuckeled.




Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
[ Parent ]
then again (none / 0) (#58)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:03:47 PM EST

this is true, then again a few come to mine that would really suck to be involved in...like ValuJet...those people got cooked and smoked pretty horriblly.  Another is the Aloha one.  Only one fatality, but the roof of the airplane was gone when the airplane was going like 400 mph.  Windburn was very terrible for these people.

Not to scare anyone, but it can be true.

[ Parent ]

very true (none / 0) (#57)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:01:41 PM EST

I get what you are saying, this is definitely true.

[ Parent ]
What happens to aviation once peak oil production (none / 0) (#46)
by auraslip on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 01:24:45 PM EST

has been passed?
124
Same as to other users of oil (none / 0) (#54)
by joib on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 05:08:22 PM EST

I.e. prices go up.

I have a vague recollection that fuel costs represent about 50 % of the operating cost of a plane, the rest being capital costs, maintenance, compliance with all kinds of certifications, salaries etc.

For comparison, I think the fuel cost for buses and trucks is also in the 50 % ballpark.

[ Parent ]

I meant more in respect to alternitives to oil (none / 0) (#55)
by auraslip on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 06:39:22 PM EST


124
[ Parent ]
aircraft and oil (3.00 / 2) (#56)
by syncrotic on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 07:34:43 PM EST

I don't think aviation will ever move to non-oil based fuels, because in aircraft design, weight is absolutely critical. Few things can compare to the energy density of jet fuel.

It won't really be necessary either. Bear in mind that oil will never run out, it will just get increasingly expensive. There will always be enough of it around to make plastics and specialty fuels such as those required for jet engines. The things for which there are subsitutues to oil will move away from it, while the rest will have no choice but to pass the price increase on to the consumer.

In the long run, as the nation's automotive fleet transitions away from oil, the drop in demand will stabilize prices. They'll undoubtedly end up higher than they are today, but not so high that we'll stop flying.

[ Parent ]

great answer (none / 0) (#65)
by auraslip on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:44:06 PM EST


124
[ Parent ]
assuming of course.. (none / 0) (#73)
by QuantumG on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 11:34:53 PM EST

that no-one invents a clean light safe source of energy tomorrow. Where exactly would you put the warp core on a 747?

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
You know (3.00 / 2) (#63)
by trhurler on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:35:57 PM EST

that the numbers used to claim that aviation is so much safer than cars are actually bullshit, right?

Measuring in terms of "passenger miles" is the sort of mistake you'd get flunked out of a first semester statistics course for making. Why? Several reasons.

First of all, when a commercial airplane does crash, generally speaking there are no survivors. On the other hand, upwards of 90% of people involved in an auto accident survive, and upwards of 75% walk away with no worse injuries than bruises and scrapes.

Second, you won't care how many passenger-miles were traversed safely if the jet YOU are on goes down. What matters is not "passenger miles," but rather the percentage chance that the plane you are on will crash. The airlines' "passenger miles" argument is like saying that cars are safer in states where people travel two to a car than in states where people travel one to a car. This simply is not true; your exposure to accident risk is independent of the number of OTHER people exposed to that same risk.

Third, given the present environment, being in a car is much safer than being in an airplane in one way: nobody will attempt to blow up, hijack, or otherwise use your car as part of a terrorist plot.

I fly when I need to, and I don't worry about it, because life is risk. BUT, I cannot stand dishonest use of numbers to trick the foolish or ignorant. The truth about airline safety is that it isn't much better than highway safety in terms of your odds of being in an accident per trip you take, but that if you get into an accident, you are fucking DEAD. The airlines hide this because, of course, it would decrease their sales figures.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

about the terrorists (none / 0) (#66)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 08:45:45 PM EST

I don't think the rare chance that you will be on a flight that is affected by a terrorist attack immediately makes cars safer...I'd consider half the drivers I encounter on the road terrorists because they scare the crap out of me.

[ Parent ]
Ok (none / 0) (#76)
by trhurler on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 12:05:14 AM EST

But the drivers on the road are figured into accident statistics. Airlines refuse to figure terrorism into their passenger-miles numbers. Why do you suppose that is?

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
chances of dying (none / 0) (#72)
by zapb42 on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 11:05:19 PM EST

Regardless of how you use the statistics, the statistic that you are more likely to die in a car accident in your lifetime than in an airplane accident is still true, terrorists or no.

[ Parent ]
That depends (none / 0) (#75)
by trhurler on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 11:50:04 PM EST

On how much time you spend in cars, and how much in airplanes. It isn't interesting to say that most people will more likely die in a car than an airplane. What is interesting is to answer the question, "on any given day, if I spend x amount of time in a moving car or the same amount of time in a flying airplane, which is more likely to kill me, and which is more likely to injure me, and what are these various odds?" and then also "on any given day, if I travel X miles by y method, what is the likelihood that I will be injured, and what is the likelihood that I will be killed?" The latter ALMOST sounds like passenger-miles, except that it isn't. It is vehicle-miles.

Compared this way, aircraft are not as safe as you think.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
I would say it would be more accurate (none / 0) (#79)
by xria on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 08:28:29 AM EST

Compare taking trips between two locations via either car or aeroplane, and deaths per trip.

Safety per mile on planes can look low due to the fact you can go 1000s of miles in relative safety while up in the air, the more dangerous time is taking off, landing or in the crowded skies around an airport.

Safety per unit time can also favour flying as they travel faster and potentially more direct.

The best way seems as mentioned above, by directly comparing the safety when choosing between the two options for the same journey. It's kind of pointless, for example, to compare figures that include cars driving around a metropolitan area day to day for months and equating it to one transatlantic flight isn't very meaningful as the two modes of transport are transferable in those situations realistically.

[ Parent ]

a good point (none / 0) (#89)
by zapb42 on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 02:53:47 PM EST

but I still think if you compare it that way, air travel would still have less inherent risk of death. This is without having any evidence, though.

[ Parent ]
Well yeah (none / 0) (#91)
by xria on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 03:12:13 PM EST

I guess its fear of the unknown or abnormal events, as well as the much higher media coverage of air disasters compare to road accidents.

Of course the funny thing is people will see crashed cars with possible deaths by the road regularly, buy hearing about a plane crash somewhere around the other part of the world once in a few months offsets even personal experiences of the danger of road transport.

Kind of how many people are scared of being killed by terrorists, but wouldnt bother doing even a minimal amount of excercise to reduce the chance of a heart attack, most people seem very bad at statistics/probability, or very good at ignoring the possibility of more mundane but massively more dangerous things.

[ Parent ]

shock factor? (none / 0) (#92)
by zapb42 on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 03:17:10 PM EST

or something I guess.  People are strange and irrational beings.

[ Parent ]
Well (none / 0) (#97)
by trhurler on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 07:45:34 PM EST

Ever notice that pilots are no more afraid of the air than drivers are of the road, and that passengers who don't drive are terrified of routine traffic maneuvers? There's a relationship there.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Bombings (none / 0) (#77)
by sholden on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 03:31:28 AM EST

If you happen to be driving past the embassy (or whatever) when the car bomb goes off then your car will in fact be blown up as part of a terrorist plot...

Which makes me think do drivers in Israel avoid bus routes or at least not tailgate busses?

--
The world's dullest web page


[ Parent ]
That's why flying sucks.. (none / 1) (#74)
by QuantumG on Mon Nov 01, 2004 at 11:47:47 PM EST

Some people are hysterical about safety and there isn't enough competition in air flight. I live in Australia and I often fly from Sydney to Brisbane. We essentially have three choices now: Qantas, Virgin, JetStar. Of these Qantas is the oldest and it shows. They have a small number of really big planes serviced by a bunch of stuck up old staff. These are the kind of people who when you ask for an extra bag of peanuts will request that you finish your current bag before asking for another. The second is the hip young, happy-go-lucky airline that charges less for their tickets by offering a reduced selection of meals on the plane which you pay for, in cash, on the plane. They also happen to have small planes which means they can get the doors closed and get off the ground faster than the big Qantas planes. This is something Qantas has recognised as a significant threat to their current dominance of the market, and brings us to JetStar, their attempted solution. So far JetStar has received nothing but bad press in regards to their safety record. They have a lot to live up to, being that Qantas has never had a serious accident. The result of all this bad press is more time on the tarmack.. both at takeoff and upon landing. It's good that Virgin has yet to cave to the safety-first-screw-the-passengers attitude.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
Virgin Blue has something there... (none / 0) (#83)
by tarpy on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 12:35:49 PM EST

I just flew Virgin Blue a couple weeks ago from Sydney to Cairns, and had to say I was impressed by how they do the whole "discount" airline thing. Much better than what I from my couple of experiences with Southwest.

We were on a relatively new 737-700 (I wanted the -800 with the winglets, but alas), with a very funny cabin crew (comments such as "we hope you enjoyed giving us your business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride" being standard from the flight crew).

As a person who doesn't like flying, I admit I was terrified of going from Qantas to a discount airline , but overall I was impressed with how DJ and its people conducted themselves...and we made it to Cairns safe and sound only $5AUD lighter (we only wanted some water and apple juice).


Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
[ Parent ]
Disagree completely (none / 0) (#96)
by Sven on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 07:11:35 PM EST

I've spent a lot of time flying Qantas from Perth to Sydney and back, and I disagree completely with your post. The fact is that Qantas look after business travellers and frequent flyers far better than Virgin Blue ever will.

small number of really big planes

Yet their flights between the major cities are far more frequent than Virgin Blue. In any case, I don't think that their fleet of 194 aircraft is a "small number", and the majority of those would not be "really big planes". They have a big collection of 738s, 734s, 733s, 146s, 717s and Dash 8s. Not that that's a good thing. From a passenger perspective, I'd rather be on a widebody aircraft any day. The A330s are nice.

a bunch of stuck up old staff

That's just your perception. On the other hand, Virgin Blue cabin staff are employed to look pretty. Since we're talking about safety, I know who I would trust more in an emergency.

These are the kind of people who when you ask for an extra bag of peanuts will request that you finish your current bag before asking for another.

Obviously this is an exaggeration. I will counter your outrageous claim by pointing out that you would be lucky to get anything on a Virgin Blue flight without paying for it.

The second is the hip young, happy-go-lucky airline that charges less for their tickets

Sometimes they charge less, sometimes they charge more. One of my colleagues is going to Adelaide for Christmas to visit his family. Virgin Blue wanted $800 return, Qantas was $512. The Qantas flight comes with food, movie, and frequent flyer points.

So far JetStar has received nothing but bad press in regards to their safety record.

The press are ignorant. But that doesn't excuse Jetstar - I've never flown with them, but my impression is that they're just as bad as Virgin Blue for frequent travellers.

It's good that Virgin has yet to cave to the safety-first-screw-the-passengers attitude.

Yes, we wouldn't want safety to get in the way of cheaper airfares. You stick with Virgin Blue, I'll stick with Qantas, and we'll both be happy.

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
[ Parent ]

Fair enough (none / 0) (#107)
by QuantumG on Tue Nov 09, 2004 at 05:51:24 AM EST

I personally find the food on Qantus revolting and the staff annoying, and excessively safety concious. You don't. Fine.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
I don't fly (2.50 / 2) (#80)
by Cro Magnon on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 09:12:28 AM EST

But I'm not that worried about possible crashes or terror activity. I'm bothered by being trapped in a tiny space with not enough room for my extra-long legs, surrounded by a bunch of grumbling, smelly people for hours with extremely crappy service from the airline clowns.
Information wants to be beer.
You must be flying American Airlines (n/t) (none / 0) (#103)
by p3d0 on Thu Nov 04, 2004 at 11:44:13 AM EST


--
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
I used to have nightmares about air travel (2.50 / 2) (#81)
by jolly st nick on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 10:07:55 AM EST

but they all take place in the terminal, invovling screwed up itineraries and indifferent airline agents.

I went through a period a few years ago where I was on the road nearly half the time. I came to loathe air travel, but not for what happened in the planes. I think the airlines don't appreciate (or don't have the funding to act as if they appreciate) how impotent air travellers fell in the face of the air travel system, and how stressful this makes the experience.

The hub and spoke system makes things far worse. Almost every trip involves two boardings, and for many trips three are required. Airport waiting areas are too small (thus overcrowded), uncomfortable an inconvenient. After 9/11, crowding got worse as airlines cut direct flights and concentrated people through their hubs. Several times I've been through Phoenix at 9 AM on Sunday morning, at the height of the airline slump, and have faced total cattle car conditions. There were lines of people a hundred deep to get a cup of coffee.

I'm ambivalent about the new discount carriers like Jet Blue. Jet Blue provides a low cost, very pleasant experience. They do it by cherry picking the most profitable direct routes. Thus, from my selfish standpoint, Jet Blue is about the best carrier to take if it is available. But it makes the situation worse if you have to travel on an unprofitable route served by a major carrier.

By the way, your take on the way air travel used to be isn't so far off the mark, and you can still have that experience if you fly internationally on a regulated airline. A few years ago , I travelled on a South American airline (I think it was Lan Chile). When the stewardesses swept en masse into the check-in area, it was like the invasion of the Amazon Models. They were all 5' 8" to 5' 10" in their high heels, in their early twenties and very, um, fit looking. But I'd still rather fly on an airline that gave me a little more room.

Societal trait (none / 1) (#88)
by PigleT on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 02:35:29 PM EST

> It is a sad fact that the general public knows very little about aviation, and yet has so much to say about it.

Unfortunately this is not only true in your chosen field of aviation, but in the areas of nuclear material handling (be it waste or as part of establishing a power-station somewhere), and GM foodstuffs (where's the actual evidence it's bad for anyone? (even the name is a misnomer, as corn/wheat/maize is genetically modified over the course of centuries anyway)), to name but two others.

Humans suck; unfortunately democracy places too much value in mass of opinion rather than refined studied expert opinion; other systems differ, probably in the opposite direction.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed

definitely (none / 1) (#93)
by zapb42 on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 04:58:52 PM EST

You are definitely right, there are many fields that suffer from this very problem. The unfortunate fact is that a lot of misguided legislation and executive orders, for one thing, get passed or made, including for the fields you mentioned.

A good example for aviation is a lot of the airports that got closed arbitrarily after 9/11. A lot of the people involved in that had no awareness of the effects of their actions on the economy, the community, and everyday people, going on what they assumed they knew rather than the actual facts. You probably know of similar problems in other fields.

And this is another U.S. centric view, but it's all I have.

[ Parent ]

Hun (3.00 / 2) (#95)
by levesque on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 05:55:40 PM EST

in the areas of nuclear material handling (be it waste or as part of establishing a power-station somewhere)

What is the problem?

and GM foodstuffs (where's the actual evidence it's bad for anyone?

It's bad when you do something that leads to bad effects. It's like the explosives industry claiming there is no need for regulation because "where are the bad effects of party poppers"

(even the name is a misnomer, as corn/wheat/maize is genetically modified over the course of centuries anyway))

Genetic modifications are normal but they are not like Genetic manipulation and do not have the same safety concerns.

[ Parent ]

ze problem (none / 1) (#100)
by PigleT on Wed Nov 03, 2004 at 04:17:20 AM EST

> What is the problem?

The problem is that injustice is perpetrated. A minority's excessive play-it-safe-ism hits the media and blooms into mass distrust and ill-opinion and even legislation gets bandied-about.

> Genetic modifications are normal but they are not like Genetic manipulation and do not have the same safety concerns.

Crap, I'm afraid. `GM' stands for `genetically modified'. There is no difference between modifying or manipulating these things. And what evidence do you have that the way the corn family's genes have been manipulated over the centuries is guaranteed to be any "safer" than someone who knows what they're doing doing it in a lab? If I'm going to distrust one, I logically have to distrust the other as well.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]

Ok (none / 1) (#102)
by levesque on Wed Nov 03, 2004 at 04:09:42 PM EST

Injustices occur by over promoting the safeness. Injustices occur by over promoting the hazards. There is no monopoly.

Ok. For the discussion. Thing # 1 : What plants are doing is called mutating or/and being bread by humans. Thing # 2 : Taking a gene from a toxic bacteria and inserting it into a plant. Only an example.

The whole of genetic manipulation procedures (like "inserting") produces random unforseeable problems because we are so primitive in our techniques. We can do great things with GM, we can also wipe out life, so like the explosives industry it should be highly regulated. To not do so is just stupid at best.

[ Parent ]

Why I avoid airliners (none / 1) (#94)
by levesque on Tue Nov 02, 2004 at 05:45:45 PM EST

I don't get into a very unsafe machine unless I have too, true they have few accidents but this is because they are build at the limits of our technical sanity conjugated with a statistical analysis of how many dead people can be tolerable financially and by the marketing department.

Understanding Aviation | 107 comments (83 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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