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Spike in Plane Crashes Highlight Air Safety Concerns

By Mark M Drewe     Mar 23, 2009 in World
Since the start of 2009, a major theme in news headlines has been a cause of worry: 4 major air crashes have grabbed top story status, with a 5th crash being reported in Montana. Is this cluster of air-related crashes a coincidence, or cause for concern?
For those that are afraid of flying, the news hasn't been too comforting in 2009. Starting with the January 15th plane crash in the Hudson river, the news of aircraft-related disasters seem to be grabbing as many headlines as the economic troubles. And much like the economic woes, these air accidents seem to be happening all over the world.
While the Hudson river plane crash was a story with a happy ending, the crashes that have happening in the two months since have all been marred with tragedy, and seem to be increasing rapidly.
The Buffalo plane crash on February 13th killed all 49 passengers on board and one on the ground after a commercial airliner crashed into a house. Following that, there was the tragedy off the Canadian east coast as a Sikorsky helicopter ditched into the Atlantic ocean en route to an offshore oil rig, killing 17 and leaving a sole survivor in serious condition. That was March 12th. Only 10 days later, a FedEx cargo plane crashed on the runway of Japan's second-busiest airport, killing both of the pilots. Hours later, reports start coming in from a Montana plane crash that's reportedly killed 14-17 passengers, many of whom are children.
Meanwhile, there are other crashes that have slipped under the front headlines as well:
On Feb. 25, a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed into a field just short of the runway at Amsterdam's main airport, killing nine people and injuring more than 100 others.
On Feb. 20, a Ukrainian cargo plane crashed during takeoff from an airport in Luxor, Egypt. Five crew members died when the Russian-made Antonov An-12 cargo plane crashed.
All of this grim news involving airline crashes in such a short time span brings up the question of air safety standards. While each of the major crashes have different reported reasons, this can actually be more worrisome than one uniform explanation. The Hudson river crash was caused by a bird flying into the engine - the Tokyo FedEx crash by high winds causing the plane to bounce as it landed - the Newfoundland helicopter crash reportedly by a broken mounting stud on the gearbox - the Buffalo house crash by ice forming on the wings of the plane during flight - all vastly different reasons, but all within a short period of time.
The range of reasons for these crashes highlights the potential serious safety problems aircraft may be facing; it could be caused by a lack of manufacturing standards, or it could be a larger issue of design flaws. A bird taking out a plane engine seemed like a long shot before the Hudson river crash, but how safe can one feel during a flight knowing that a bird could potentially bring down the plane they are in? How often birds are struck by planes per year may be unknown, but it is not a comforting statistic.
Meanwhile, ice formations on wings are even more troublesome. When planes are in the air, the outside air temperature can be well below -100F - ice formations are bound to happen at such extreme temperatures - but to think that a plane can't withstand or repel it from affecting its wings can only indicate a design flaw in the aircraft - one that an issue like a heater on the wings could potentially solve.
In the case of the Newfoundland helicopter crash, although it is not as of yet confirmed to be the reason, a broken mounting stud that caused a loss of oil pressure is an extremely preventable cause. Simple safety checks could identify the issue.
Ultimately, the news isn't encouraging - a cluster of three plane crashes on US soil within two months comes after a two-year layoff in aircraft related deaths:
Flight 3407 [Buffalo] is the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner mistakenly took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.
With the increasing body count and safety concerns that are arising from an instrument of transportation that connects the world together the quickest, it is already a global issue. The United States, Canada, Japan, Ukriane, Egypt, Denmark, and Turkey have all been affected by aircraft crashes this year, and that's not even before the end of the third month. The multitude of disasters calls for either more rigorous safety standards, improved manufacturing practices, or more extensive testing of the aircrafts that are making these flights. What is likely is that a combination of these processes will need to be employed.
On the other hand, this influx of air accidents could just be coincidence. However, whether these headlines are part of a larger, growing trend, or simply an aberration, it can be little solace to the families of those who have been killed.
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