Since the days of Bellview, Sosoliso and Dana Airlines’ crashes around 2012, no air fatality involving Nigerians has racked so much emotions and plunged Nigerians into mourning as last Sunday’s Ethiopian Airline crash involving Pius Adesanmi. In this piece, VICTOR OKEKE asks whether it is still safe to fly.
As the results of the governorship and state assembly elections were being expected on Sunday, the news of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 to Nairobi, Kenya that crashed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday, March 10, 2019, killing all on board took over the social media space in Nigeria. “Prof”, “Pius Adesanmi” and “Ethiopian Air” were the major trending words on Twitter. Nigerians couldn’t believe it was true- to imagine that beloved Professor Adesanmi could die so abruptly, it was a very bitter pill to swallow.
Finally, the sad news came that Nigerian-Canadian Professor, Pius Adesamni, was named as a victim by Benoit-Antoine Bacon, the president and vice-chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Describing him as a “towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship”, he said the entire university community was grieving his tragic death.
He revealed that “among many accolades, he received the Penguin Prize for African writing (non-fiction) in 2010”.
In a tribute, Simbo Olorunfemi said, “Pius was a gift to generations. His writing, intellect, humanity, sense of humanity and the duty of care he exercised over people, Nigeria, the continent and even further are beyond compare… He has taken on fresh wings. Now, he can fly, free, unhindered, impacting generations unborn with his words and work.”
Chido Onumah described him as “an embodiment of intellectualism, dedication, hard work, and the community spirit; ever willing to give back his intellect, time and resources for the greater good of his country and humanity.”
Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Ambassador Abiodun Oluremi Bashua, a retired envoy, who served in Iran, Austria and Cote d’ivoire, was among 149 passengers and eight crew that were on board the ill-fated flight.
As a result, a growing list of airline carriers and aviation regulators around the world are grounding fleets of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the wake of the crash. Ethiopian Airlines, the flag carrier of the East African nation, decided to ground its remaining Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft “until further notice.”
Airlines in other countries also, have announced the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 fleets, including Cayman Airways, the flag carrier airline of the Cayman Islands, South Africa-based airline, Comair, Aeromexico, Mexico’s flag carrier airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina’s largest airline and flag carrier, Gol, Brazil’s largest airline, Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s national carrier, South Korean airline Eastar Jet, Turkish Airlines, Turkey’s national flag carrier airline, and Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norway’s largest airline.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, on Tuesday, suspended all flight operations of Boeing 737 Max 8 and 737 Max 9 aircraft models from flying into or out of Europe, “as a precautionary measure,” amid the ongoing investigation into Sunday’s crash.
A number of nations had already issued restrictions on the embattled jetliner.
China’s aviation regulator has ordered all Chinese airlines to suspend operations of the Boeing 737 Max 8, nearly 96 jets. Using those planes won’t resume until “confirming the relevant measures to effectively ensure flight safety,” the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement, Monday.
Perhaps, because of news as this, it is estimated 70 per cent of plane passengers fear flying. But statistically speaking, flying on a commercial airliner is the safest form of transport there is, according to the US National Safety Council.
There are a range of estimates out there, but based on its analysis of US Census data, it puts the odds of dying as a plane passenger at 1 in 205,552. That compares with odds of 1 in 4,050 for dying as a cyclist; 1 in 1,086 for drowning, and 1 in 102 for a car crash.
In 2017, there were 4.1 billion passengers travelling by air worldwide. With a total of 50 fatalities for scheduled commercial departures, the year of 2017 had a global fatality rate of 12.2 fatalities per billion passengers, representing the safest year ever on the record for aviation, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Accident rate also increased by 12 per cent, from 2.1 accidents per million departures in 2016 to 2.4 accidents per million departures in 2017.
The year-over-year accident statistics indicate an increase in both the total number of accidents as well as the accident rate. In 2017, the number of accidents increased by 17 per cent comparing to 2016 with 88 accidents reported by States.
According to Kelsey Munro, an aviation expert in an article, the data favours air travel because alongside technological improvements to aircraft over the decades, the whole system of international air travel is carefully regulated.
The deadliest plane crash in history happened in 1977 in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. Two planes collided on the runway and 583 people were killed.
The Canadian-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents 290 airlines (or 82 per cent of global air traffic). It says the five-year average from 2012 has been 75 accidents a year, (almost 11 of them with fatalities) per 37.3 million yearly flights. That’s an average of 315 people dying a year in plane crashes over the past five years.
What causes plane crashes?
Based on an analysis of accident data for scheduled commercial air transport operations, the ICAO identified three high-risk accident categories as its safety priorities and they are, runway safety related events, loss of control in-flight (LOC-I) and ontrolled flight into terrain (CFIT).
The ICAO says that the three categories represented 58 per cent of the total number of accidents, 80 per cent of fatal accidents, 96 per cent of all fatalities and 82 per cent of the accidents that destroyed or caused substantial damage to aircraft in 2017.
The Sydney-based chair of aviation safety consultancy firm AV Law, Dr Ron Bartsch said 85 to 90 per cent of accidents these days are caused by human error. “Accidents are usually human factor related,” he told SBS News.
What are our odds of surviving an accident?
According to a BBC report, there is no clear-cut answer – just as we can’t definitively say how survivable car accidents are, because it depends entirely on the circumstances.
But when the US National Transportation Safety Board did a review of national aviation accidents from 1983-1999, it found that more than 95 per cent of aircraft occupants survived accidents, including 55 per cent in the most serious incidents.
Our chances largely depend on factors like the presence of fire, the altitude a mishap takes place at, and its location.
The European Transport Safety Council estimated that 90 per cent of aircraft accidents were technically survivable in a study in 1996. In 2009, 150 passengers famously survived a plane drowning in New York’s Hudson River.
In the two decades since these two studies were done, airline safety has improved even further, with fatal accidents steadily declining.
How to survive a plane crash
According to a South Africa Travel Online, the safest seats on a plane are next to the exits. The further from an exit you are seated the lower your chances of surviving a plane crash. A recommendation is being at least within five rows of an exit. If you can’t get a seat next to the emergency exit, then request an aisle seat.
Remember how to undo your seatbelt. Time and again in crashes many passengers struggle to undo their seatbelts (people tend to go into autopilot in emergencies and try to press a button like they would on a car seat). The seatbelt on a plane is a latch not a button.
If you are told to adopt the brace position, then do so. The brace position prevents you from flying forward and hitting the seat in front of you and reduces your chances of being knocked unconscious.
Insist that the airline seats you next to your family, as it is human nature to want to leave the plane with them. Let children know which parent is responsible for each of them, and what the emergency plan is.
Do not inflate your life jacket whilst in the plane – you may end up trapped inside.
Mentally know that you are going to survive – never give up. Dress for survival. Wear trainers or tie-up shoes, as you may literally need to run for your life! Wear cotton clothing rather than fabric made from non-natural fibres, as it does not cling to your skin as much in the event of a fire. Wear trousers and a long-sleeve shirt in case you crash into freezing cold terrain.
Do not drink alcohol or take a sleeping tablet, as you want to be focused and awake should the plane crash.
Indeed, the air transport industry plays a major role in global economic activity and development. One of the key elements to maintaining the performance of civil aviation is to ensure safe, secure, efficient and sustainable operations at the global, regional and national levels.