The Sewol ferry incident has still left a lingering sorrow in Korea. The accident was not only due to the selfish actions of the captain and many of the crew, but also shed light on the issue of safety within Korea. Unfortunately, Korea is not the only country that had to go through such a harsh tragedy. The downing of one Malaysian Airlines plane and the loss of another has resulted in hundreds of deaths. What seems so unusual is that for a long time airplane travel was known to be quite safe, especially in comparison to other forms of transportation.
From 2010, the accident rate among airplanes has been on a downward trend. Unfortunately, this year the number of passengers who died in flight accidents has reached 1000, 168 more than last year. Last year in July, an Asiana Boeing 777 aircraft crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport. Even after a year, the controversy on the main cause of the accident has not resolved yet. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the reason for the crash was pilot error. However, the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board (ARAIB) of Korea disputes that there are faults to the plane as well, claiming the aircraft auto-pilot was too complicated for the Asiana pilots to fully understand. Either way, we should turn a fresh eye to plane travel safety issues.
Safety Regulations Are in Need of Development
On March 8, the Malaysia Airline MH370 flight from Singapore to Beijing vanished above the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board. The specific cause is still unknown, and many assumptions have been made. Investigators have moved their search area towards a southern area because prior searches came up empty and a new look at the information from satellites pointed in that direction. A second investigation by the Australian government began in August, and they are considering it may take as long as one year to complete. Their primary goal is to find the air plane. The cause of the accident will be investigated by Malaysian experts afterward.
The biggest concern is why the airplane deviated from its intended route. The closest hypothesis that the specialists currently have is that the plane was on auto pilot, but that after the last signal, the pilot or someone on the plane changed the route. The investigation into what happened to MH370 flight is still ongoing.
More recently, on July 23, a Taiwanese TransAsia Airways plane crashed; 48 passengers were killed and 10 passengers were injured. The plane was traveling through heavy rains and due to the low visibility, the pilot, on his second attempt at landing, crashed the twin-engine turboprop. Due to the weather, other plane flights were delayed, but the TransAsia Airways plane was not. A similar accident occurred on the next day. On July 24, an Air Algerie flight from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital disappeared from radar screens while crossing the northern Mali. The flight was carrying 116 people, half of them French. The airplane crashed while changing its route after encountering heavy rain, and no survivors have yet been found.
These catastrophes indicate the need for more advanced technology and less blunders. For example, the flight hours have not changed compared to few years ago, despite the fast pace of technological development. Also, there should be stricter and more frequent security prevention checks to lower the accident rates as well. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Dutch Safety Board (DSB) required Boeing Company to assess and make modification to the use of an auditory low speed warning signal.
A Safe Environment Is Mandatory
Some accidents occur in a place where the accident could have been expected. In particular, the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 is blamed on Russia separatists in Ukraine. On August 9, the flight was struck by a missile when it was crossing the eastern part of Ukraine, where a civil war is taking place, and killed all of the 298 people on the plane.
According to intercepted radio communications of Russia separatists discussing the MH17 crash, provided by CNN but originally from the Ukrainian government, many suspect that the Russian separatists in the Eastern region of Ukraine fired the missile, thinking the commercial plane was a Ukraine military troop carrier. However, the authenticity of the recording evidence has not been completely confirmed, and the Russian separatists are defending themselves by arguing that they do not possess such missiles.
Due to this accident, a lot of media focused on the issues over the relationship between the United Sates (U.S.) and Russia. However, what is left out is that the Malaysian plane’s route crossed a country facing a civil war. Although the route was confirmed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), many have questioned why Malaysian Air used it. A Malaysian Air official stressed that some 15 of 16 Asia-Pacific Airlines fly “this route over Ukraine” and added: “European airlines also use the same route, and traverse the same airspace. In the hours before the incident, a number of other passenger aircraft from different carriers used the same route.” Nonetheless, CNBC news criticized that the Malaysia airline took the potentially dangerous route to lower costs.
Message from the Accidents
Some may regard these plane accidents as limited to foreign countries’ situations. However, others may remember a similar incident in Korea—a Korean Air flight being downed by a Soviet combat plane. This is another reason why we should not overlook the Malaysian aircraft case as just an occurrence in a faraway country. These accidents are an important issue that we should continue to consider.
Keum Chul Young, a Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) journalist specializing in foreign affairs said, “The Korean peninsula technically remains at war. There should never be a circumstance where lives are lost due to aircraft being mistreated, but equally, there should not be a case where lives are lost following mistreatment of peace.” The important issue is that Korea may not be as safe as most citizens believe it to be. Just like the incident in Ukraine, the dynamics of a battlefield should be considered more deeply, especially when dealing with aviation programs.
Furthermore, a safe route environment is not the only important issue, but the airplanes themselves need to be safe. In 1997, a Korean Air flight crashed in Guam and 225 people died from this accident. The airline now uses nine percent of its operating expenses on aircraft maintenance. Some question whether Low Cost Carriers (LCC) are able to afford low fares and high safety. The government should ensure better regular safety checkups and the airlines company should have more comprehensive training systems for their crews.
Nowadays, when we think about foreign affairs, our thoughts turn to the issues of peace or environment. However, with these severe air accidents taking place, we should realize aviation is an essential part of the interconnection between countries and that attention to the safety regulations and practices in aviation should be taken seriously.