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Tue 9 Sep 2008 03:16 PM

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Safe landing?

The fatal collision of Spanair’s MD82 aircraft has caused a considerable stir in the international media.

The fatal collision of Spanair’s MD82 aircraft has caused a considerable stir in the international media. And while aviation experts were still busy discussing the safety issues and piecing together the puzzle, an Itek Air flight crashed only days later, killing 68 people.

The Spanish carrier, which crashed last month, had been previously criticised for its disorganised maintenance records. Though a full investigation is still underway, the media implied both technical and human error were involved in the accident, which could have been prevented if better safety measures had been in place.

Prior to the Itek Air collision, the Kyrgyzstan-based carrier was banned from EU airspace and blacklisted by aviation authorities due to fears over safety. But it’s not only the low cost or short haul airlines which are criticised for maintenance standards. Australian carrier, Qantas, recently suffered bad press after a hole developed in an aircraft’s fuselage during a long-haul flight. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines, invoking speculation about the airline’s safety practices.

Despite concerns that these incidents will deter passengers from flying, airline’s management do not seem worried. Andrew Cohen, CEO of Saudi Arabian low cost carrier, Sama, says customers are increasingly educated about air safety and will not let tragic accidents stop them flying. In addition he argues there is absolutely no correlation between low cost carriers and poor safety records, describing it as “an increasingly threadbare myth.” In fact, he points out that many low cost carriers contract out maintenance work to larger established companies, which in some respects may be more reliable. Air Arabia’s management agree that safety is never compromised in the budget model, saying only entertainment and meals services are sacrificed to cut costs.

While accurate and organised maintenance checks are vital to successful operations and air safety, fleet age may also be a significant factor. The aircraft destroyed in the Spanair crash was some 15 years old, provoking concern that older planes may be unsuitable for commercial use. However, aviation experts and pilots argue that this fact alone would be unlikely to cause major devastation. Now that the aircraft’s black boxes have been successfully recovered, Spanish officials are hoping that investigators can fully determine what went wrong.

Elizabeth Cernik is the assistant editor of Aviation Business.

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