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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Air show crashes raise concerns over flight safety

This weekend (22nd – 23rd August), two separate horrific incidents occurred at air shows; the first, here in the UK, involved a Hawker Hunter jet crashing into the A27 at Shoreham, West Sussex, after failing to pull out of a loop manoeuvre. It is not yet known how many people died. The second concerned two light planes crashing into each other in Switzerland, leaving one of the pilots dead after his automatic rescue system failed to activate.

The Civil Aviation Authority has since announced it will “thoroughly examine” the circumstances of the UK disaster. Its comments come in light of calls from a mother of one of the victims to not stage air shows so close to busy roads.

These accidents come off the back of a difficult time for aviation. Recent years have seen a number of high profile flight disasters; from missing planes to those deliberately attacked, flight safety is now seemingly a public concern. And yet, the Aviation Safety Network, along with other organizations, highlights that the number of fatal accidents is actually falling, compared with the number of passengers flying. It reports that in 2014, while there were 692 fatalities, these resulted from only 20 accidents. Planes are flying with more people, with air traffic at its peak. Unfortunately, with more people on board, the rate of passenger deaths will remain high even with just one accident.

Technological improvements and strict flying standards have inordinately increased plane safety. While older planes such as the jet involved at Shoreham may be perceived as less safe, in reality they are maintained to a modern standard. Simply, a plane is either operable or not, its age does not affect it. The aforementioned CAA actively enforces international and European safety standards in relation to airworthiness of aircraft. The CAA are also responsible for enforcing the Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations 2004, which set out various health and safety rights in relation to working time, such as rest breaks and hours to be worked. The Health and Safety Executive also retains responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. As far as industries go, it therefore has the widest range and most stringent regulatory systems in place.

Bristol has a long legacy of aviation, most notably through the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Concorde and more recently through BAE Systems and Airbus. Aside from the large amount of people that are employed, aerospace is part of Bristol’s identity and every airplane disaster is felt acutely by those who work and live nearby. While each and every disaster is shocking, it would be a great shame for the headlines which follow to lose sight of the fact that aviation remains one of the safest modes of travel.

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