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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

WHAT'S WITH MALAYSIA? Why 3 major air disasters, is it still safe to fly?

WHAT'S WITH MALAYSIA? Why 3 major air disasters, is it still safe to fly?
KUALA LUMPUR - After news reports surfaced Sunday on the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 — the third Malaysia-related air tragedy in 2014 — the same question that has been lingering in the minds of many since the last two Malaysia Airlines (MAS) disasters has reared its ugly head again — is it still safe to fly?
In the New York Times, 2014 was described as a “grim”, “unimaginably horrible” year for Malaysian aviation.
Other observers cautioned that the local airlines industry will experience a slowdown even if all its aircraft typically have stellar safety records, like AirAsia’s Airbus A320.
Travellers, they said, will be understandably spooked at the thought of boarding any commercial jet bearing a Malaysian brand. While MAS is the local carrier of Malaysia, Indonesia AirAsia is 49 per cent owned by AirAsia Bhd, the Kuala Lumpur-based low-cost carrier owned by local mogul Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.
Aviation analysts and statistics, however, still suggest that flying has never been safer and that the three disasters, while tragic, were merely freak occurrences.
“‘Rarity’ is the word ... The commercial aviation is 11 years old, and anything like this has never happened before,” Mohshin Aziz, an aviation industry analyst with Maybank Investment Bank told Malay Mail Online over email.
The twin tragedies of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flights MH370 and MH17 earlier this year were already considered rare enough occurrences on a global scale, he said, but to have both disasters involve a single country is entirely unprecedented.
"It's so safe now that incidents tend to be more mysterious and striking because crashes only happen in extremely rare circumstances.
"That's why this year had such an impact. Accidents are so rare that we magnify those that occur," said Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based independent aviation consultant, in an interview with Canada-based CTV news earlier this month.
Worst year for aviation industry?
According to data provided by Geneva-based Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives (BAAA), the number of aircraft accidents for every million departures is at a historical low in 2014, a far cry from the early days of aviation between the 1960s and 1970s.
The accident rate is also on a markedly downward trend over the decades, parallel with the number of fatalities for every million departures.
“It will probably come as a surprise to most people, but really it was a very safe year,” Paul Hayes, the director of safety at aviation consultancy Ascend, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Sunday.
In March this year, MH370 ended over the Southern Indian Ocean with 239 people onboard, while 298 died after MH17 was shot down over Ukrainian airspace in July.
In addition, an Air Algerie flight also crashed en route to Algeria from Burkina Faso, leaving 116 passengers dead, while a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in southwest Taiwan, killing 48.
The BAAA reported that 1,320 died from aviation disasters this year, including any aircraft that can carry more than six passengers and military planes.
Meanwhile the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), an affiliate of the non-profit group Flight Safety Foundation, reported the number at 526, as it excluded military planes, casualties from hostile actions — such as MH17 — planes carrying less than 14 passengers.
Still, both fatality numbers were way off from 2005, when BAAA reported 1,463 deaths and ASN reported fatalities of 1,074 from aircraft accidents.
ASN highlighted that at 265 deaths, the year 2013 was the safest year for the aviation industry since 1945.
Even before Flight QZ8501 went missing, casualties were still below the 10-year average of 676 fatalities, ASN said.
"Every ten years or so, we have a year that is less safe than others. Unfortunately this year was one of those," BAAA’s Ronan Hubert told the US-based CNN yesterday.
All eyes on aviation’s future
Yesterday, Indonesian Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan announced that his government will be reviewing Indonesia AirAsia’s operations, while its parent company AirAsia’s stock fell more than 7.8 per cent, its biggest one-day drop in more than three years.
Since MH370 and MH17, travellers have grown somewhat apprehensive of boarding MAS flights.
After Sunday’s AirAsia incident, the same apprehension is slowly being levelled at the budget carrier, Reuters reported yesterday.
The Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (Matta) also told Malay Mail Online that although the latest incident involved an Indonesian entity, its link to Malaysia via the AirAsia brand was inevitable as the low-cost carrier was considered a home-grown business.
This comes even after Malaysia lobbied hard for the need to implement real-time aircraft tracking and sharing of information to the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council in October.
After the disastrous week for aviation in July, ICAO’s 191-member states vowed to “leave no stone unturned” to improve safety, and pushed for a September deadline to complete a policy framework for global tracking of commercial aircraft.
“Negative sentiment will have a stronghold on the industry for a while. People can't help but to be nervous and reserved about flying for the time being,” Mohshin told Malay Mail Online.
“It will take time for the negative sentiments to subside and things to recover back to normal. Exactly how long, is a question with no answer.”
Indonesia AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501 disappeared from Jakarta’s radar at 6.18am local time yesterday amid stormy weather enroute to Singapore from Surabaya.
On board the Airbus A320 jet were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Malaysian, one Singaporean, one Frenchman and one Briton, comprising 155 passengers and seven crew members.
The plane’s last known position was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Borneo Island. - Malay Mail

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