In-flight aviation complications have a nine in ten chance of having been prevented by FAA (Federal Aviation Association) safety measures both in use today and being issued in the near future (Sagun, 99). Some accidents are on a grand scale killing hundreds of people, while some are so small that passengers are unaware that they even happened. Meanwhile, the FAA is busy turning out new regulations, little attention is actually being paid to the jobs, making sure they are done, and done correctly. Aviation complications are not only time-consuming and annoying, but they could potentially put your life in danger. If the FAA doesn?t press for higher quality standards, conditions could impair the industry as a whole. It?s no wonder that so many people complain of ?fear of flying?.
Air travel is growing to one of the largest forms of transportation the world over. Almost every country on the planet is now accessible through private and commercial aircraft. American, Northwest, and United Airlines all have three to five year plans to substantially drop the fares on their domestic flights (Taylor, 99). This in turn will heighten traffic in the already overflowing business. ?Economical? or Valuejet like companies are more popular and more widely used than ever before. These companies also can fit more persons per aircraft than conventional airlines. Aviation is very widely used, and in the future more and more business will accompany more affordable prices.
Airline business is growing, but this does not mean its getting safer. The average aircraft of the big three (American, United and Delta) was built in the early 1970?s. Which means safety systems are constantly being outdated. In fact it takes a minimum of four years after a system is designed to pass through government tests and legislature. By this time the system its self is almost outdated. Another defect of older aircraft is their insulation. Almost all of the MD-80, MD-90, MD-11, MD-88, Boeing 719, and DC-10 aircraft have original insulation. This insulation was found by the FAA to be highly flammable and excretes potentially fatal toxins into the air. Also still in use are Radar systems that are so old, that they pick up impulses from nearby cellular phones and even on occasion project tall buildings as incoming aircraft. This was true in a recent ?Ghost Radar Signal? at Detroit?s metro airport. Equipment must either be replaced or updated for systems to warn of danger like they were intended to do so.
The FAA is doing a good job of creating new regulations for the industry; the problem lies on how they enforce the new regulations.
?There are plenty of rules and regulations out there made to keep people safe, the question is if they ever get followed up on, or just checked off and assumed done.? stated Capt. Tom Branchfeild of Northwest. The flammable insulation that was mentioned earlier is still aboard aircraft. The total cost of removal from all the aircraft came to a total of 398.7 million dollars. With a price so high, the FAA is granting breaks for deadline extensions to smaller commercial companies. Most recently the FAA rejected a ploy for explosive detectors in small airports reportedly because of lack of cargo being transported through smaller airports (Taylor, 99). Three bombs were found on aircraft flying out of small airports all ready this year (Richards, 00). The FAA must enforce the regulations that are issued to protect against errors and faulty equipment.
The problem of industry growth over the past decade has been over examined many times. More expensive companies such as United Airlines have increased the volume of their fleet to accommodate the new growth. Other companies such as former airline ValueJet increased the number of seats available by cramming in extra rows and decreasing isle space. While barely making it under FAA regulations, the decreased space and increased volume of people has posed problems for emergency evacuations (Richards, 00). Another downfall of increased business posses no direct risk to your health, though some might argue differently. Traffic within airports has gotten to the ?Two hour margin?, or so it was called by Capt. Jack Durham of Northwest (2000). He is referring to the time it takes after arrival until actual boarding of the plane. More often than not planes take off filled to the limit, leaving booked passengers waiting at the gate. With airline travel increasing on average of 9.2% a year since 1990, traffic pile-ups and over seated airplanes may be tomorrow?s headlines (Taylor, 99).
While most of the time rules and regulations are followed, there are always those cases in which they deliberately broken, placing passengers and possibly yourself in danger. Last week Southwest Airlines was fined 70,000 dollars for transporting barrels of lighter fluid in the forward cargo hold of a passenger DC-9. Needless to say the fluid is highly flammable and if a spark occurred, would generate a blast equivalent to a metric ton of TNT (Richards, 00). The fine is a small price to pay for putting so many passengers in danger. Also, the FAA requires a predetermined amount of sleep for each hour a pilot remains awake while on duty. Upon examining two pilots? schedules for the month of June myself, out of 15 combined trips, five were dubbed ?illegal?s?. In fact 31% of flights are piloted by Captains with well under the legal amount of sleep (Brenner, 00). This clearly demonstrates that companies are violating regulations knowingly. In the same report (Brenner, 00) only seven in ten pilots are examined by an airline approved physician annually. These reports lead one to believe that disregard for regulations is not only occurring, but on a regular basis with little or no consequences.
Stricter quality control from the FAA and increased surveillance of commercial maintenance is needed for passengers to truly be safe. This can be accomplished by placing officials right in with the mechanics to check over and guarantee quality work. Legislature must pass laws, some already being proposed, to transfer government funds, the same funds that come out your paycheck, to ensure jobs are being completed properly. Funds that would normally go to research and development are needed more immediately in the FAA report follow-up funds. An increase in training is also needed to fully prepare maintenance workers for the important procedures that can determine if a plane is air-worthy or should be grounded for repair. It?s small decisions like these that make aviation safer for everyone.
The FAA must step up to the challenges of the 21st century if it plans on operating a controlled, safe environment for airline passengers. With aviation, even the smallest detail can quickly change into a threatening dilemma. This is true with airport traffic, maintenance, or following regulatory guidelines. If industry standards are enforced and new quality controls are put into place, the fear of flying not only wouldn?t exist, but who knows how countless many lives could be kept out of harms way.
Richards, Troy. 2000, March. ?Scandal in the Skies? Aviation Week. Pp. 27-29.
Brenner, Tom. 2000, April. ?Soon or Bust? Airline Pilot Monthly. Pp. 13-14.
Taylor, Brent. 1999, December. ?Rates?? AirForce. Pp. 23-24.
?Aviation Week,? 2000, June 4. Aviation Week Feeds: www.Aviationweek.com/news/safety.net