ARTICLE: Ottawa Citizen (1999-08-13) on page A17
Plain, unvarnished truth about air safety
We know we take too much for granted. Take electricity. Take clean drinking water. Now take aviation safety. Nobody pays much attention to it until there is an accident, and then it's too late. Who, but the white-knuckle crowd and the first-time flyers, listens as flight attendants give safety briefings? Ignorance is indeed bliss. However, does it offer us any protection against the inherent risk in air travel? Not knowing what risks you are taking puts you on a faster track for disaster.
Let's check this out. When you pull down a sun visor on a new car, you see a bright yellow warning label: ``Airbag Warning. Death or Serious injury can occur ....'' There are warning signs on minivan seats, on the seatbelts themselves and even on the floor mats of some cars. Warning messages leap off almost every page of the Owner's Manual. ``If your seatbelt is not flat across your body, severe injury could occur ....'' Does this stop people from flocking to showrooms and buying new cars? Evidently not. Detroit automakers report their profits in billions of dollars. Quarterly.
This clearly profitable candour from the car manufacturers, whether motivated by concern for consumer safety or merely the desire to avoid or mitigate huge liability settlements, is sobering, educational and refreshing. And this is from the industry that 34 years ago fought Ralph Nader, tooth and nail, when he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. Now we see Ford boasting about the Windstar's five-star safety rating five years in a row. Other manufacturers offer other safety devices. It used to be that only Volvo talked about safety. Today, safety helps sell cars.
Now board an airplane. What do you see? No warning labels or shoulder straps here. Some airlines space the seats so closely, on long haul flights, that any passenger over 5'10'' would have to stand - and many do - all the way across the Atlantic. An emergency evacuation in the required 90 seconds would be very difficult. In fact, most evacuations take more than 90 seconds, according to a study done by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Most people don't read the safety cards or pay attention to the briefings. They should. To their credit, at least Canadian Airlines has tried to inject some humour into its safety cards. Next time you fly on Canada's plucky but financially unlucky airline, look for the magician in the top hat, heading out the emergency exit.
Nevertheless, aside from the emergency cards and the drill on seatbelts, chair backs and tray tables, there isn't much safety information. The in-flight magazine is full of puff pieces and route maps. Web sites? Forget it. Airports are the same. When are we going to get some candid, hard-hitting articles about aviation safety and what the industry is doing about it? There are no shortage of topics: Dangerous goods, excess carry-on baggage, aging aircraft, concerns about wiring and aircraft rescue and firefighting, bird strikes (especially this time of year) and air rage. And there are other safety topics.
For the last decade, if not two, we have been exposed to successful companies that are obsessed with quality, customer satisfaction and feedback. If airlines and airports are genuinely concerned about passenger safety, and we trust they are, let's see them take a few lessons from these industries. Tell us about aviation risks, and let us respond to that information. Be candid about safety. Most of us won't run for the exits; in Canada, we often don't have much of an alternative to flying.
Most of us will actually have more faith in you if you can break the long-standing taboo on talking publicly. The regulator, Transport Canada, should not be far behind. In fact, the government ought to be leading the charge of opening a safety dialogue with the public.
Several years ago, the Boeing Corporation completed a study, now widely acknowledged inside the air transportation world, that predicts, on the basis of a stable accident rate and a steady increase in air travel, that by the year 2015 we will see the loss of one jet airliner per week somewhere in the world. CNN is going to have a ball. The airlines and regulators are worried. Air travellers should be too.
This is not a time to hide behind glib assurances. It is time to initiate an informed, mature dialogue between those who provide a service that is perfectly capable of killing you, and those who simply trust that it won't.
This dialogue needs reason and passion. Most important, it needs the public to take part. Walter Lippman defined ``public interest,'' the very oxygen of a healthy democracy, as being what people would choose ``if they saw clearly, thought rationally, acted disinterestedly and benevolently.'' Let that dialogue begin.
Earlier this year, a small organization, the Air Passenger Safety Group (APSG), was created to encourage passengers to become more informed, more assertive and responsible when it comes to aviation safety. The APSG has now planned the first-ever symposium on air passenger safety, taking place in Ottawa on Thursday, Aug. 19. Two key issues are being discussed: aircraft wiring, suspected in the crash of TWA 800 and SwissAir 111, and the very difficult policy issue of airport rescue and firefighting. Participants will be polled and the results sent to the Minister of Transport. The concerns of air passengers must be heard. The lessons of history are clear. We take public safety for granted at our peril.
You might have read some of my recent comments to an individual who posted here - delivering thoughts regarding terrorism playing a part in the downing of swissair Flight 111. If you have read any of those comments, you would understand that I don't often have the opportunity to post at Barbara's site (VERY UNFORTUANTELY).. but when I can, I do.
I wanted to take this moment to THANK YOU, for posting this article. Although dated, it is extremely important and bears posting again and again and again!
I had the distinct honor of being invited to not only attend, but speak at the APSG's symposium in Aug '99. One of IASA's representatives (at that time) took part in the technical discussions pertaining to the dangerous wiring in aircraft during their symposium. I was given the honor of being asked to be the keynote speaker during the dinner following the symposium.
I felt compelled to take the time to not only thank you for posting this article, but to assure you Barbara (as you already know), IASA and APSG continue to work diligently in the aviation safety realm.
THANK YOU AGAIN, for bringing this very important article to the forefront.
My Very Best,
Lyn S. Romano
IASA/US (International Aviation Safety Assoc.)
Wife of Raymond M. Romano
Passenger on swissair Flight 111
CD I totally agree with IP. That is a very interesting article. Thanks for posting it. I really appreciate the wealth of articles you've posted on this site.
quote:CD I hope that there will be some news coverage of this safety symposium. It sounds like it could be very interesting.
As Lyn indicated, this symposium happened back in August of 1999. That was before my time in Ottawa so I didn't have the opportunity to attend.
I couldn't find any media references online relating to the symposium, but they may exist. What I did find were these links:
Presentation by Bob Perkins, Assistant Canada Air Safety Chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association International
CATCA News December 1999 ~ Reference to APSG in newsletter
Michael Murphy - co-founder of APSG
Thanks for pointing that out Chris. I don't know how the heck I missed that- I read your post twice! Also thanks for the links- I'll definitely check those out.
Just wanted to add that now that I've read the links I do remember this. It would be very interesting if something like this were held again now that the final report is out.
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