What is involved with Passenger Jet Accidents?

It has been said that flying is several times safer than driving on the highway. But no matter how one looks at the statistics, flying is an inherently dangerous method of transportation. Soaring through the sky hundreds of miles an hour, thousands of feet above the ground in a commercial jet made of intricate mechanical and electronic systems and powered by volatile fuel leaves little room for error.

One small mechanical malfunction, misjudgment, or faulty response can lead to disaster for an airplane’s passengers as well as unsuspecting people on the ground, which is why it’s critical that airplane manufacturers, pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and others in the aviation industry adhere to the highest possible standards at all times. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Commercial airline safety has improved over the decades, yet passenger jet crashes still claim the lives of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of passengers and ground victims every year, according to the Aircraft Crashes Record Office in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2001 to 2010, 308 passenger jets have crashed worldwide, 75 of which involved U.S. and Canadian carriers. Commercial air traffic is also expected to double within the next 20 years, which could increase the risk of aviation crashes.

Decades of National Transportation Safety Board aviation crash investigations have found that the majority of aviation crashes – from helicopters and small private airplanes to large passenger jets — are actually preventable.

Pilot and flight crew error is the number-one cause of commercial jet crashes and accounts for the highest number of aviation-related fatalities. Pilot errors can be as simple as fatigue, “sleep inertia,” a state in which performance and situational awareness are degraded immediately after waking up from a required nap, and even spatial disorientation.

Pilot error may also be the result of inadequate/poor training, faulty judgment (such as intentionally flying into a dangerous storm), or faulty response to mechanical failure or external problem, such as a bird strike. Navigational errors that cause the plane to collide with a mountain, building, communication tower or other obstacle; failure to correctly read, interpret, and use cockpit instrumentation; failure to follow air traffic control directions; ignoring fuel levels; improperly de-icing the plane; simple speed control and maneuvering mistakes; and disconnection of autopilot are just some of the possible pilot errors that could (and often do) spell catastrophe in the air.

Faulty Equipment and flawed aircraft design, problems which can be attributed to both manufacturing and maintenance error, have also been to blame for many air crashes. Critical failures can occur when the airplane components and structures experience stress from flight time, age, and corrosion. Sometimes, poor maintenance, such as improper lubrication controlling parts, can play a role in an air accident. In some cases where mechanical and design flaws threaten a flight, the experience and training of the pilot and other crew can make the difference between a safe landing and a crash. In others, the pilot may follow every procedure correctly but still be unable to avert disaster.

Air traffic controllers also play a key role in the safety of all commercial passenger flights. The failure of an air traffic controller to properly guide air traffic, either through negligence or error, has contributed to some aviation crashes and near crashes in the past.

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