Heavier than air: notable aviation risks and claims
Notable aviation risks and claims
Because aviation is so vital to today’s economy, potential flight risks need to be identified and minimised to prevent costly and tragic consequences as well as hefty insurance claims and losses. We look at some of the more notable risks in aviation.
Risk one: Pilot error
There’s an old cliché in the aviation industry that says: “The best pilots possess the superior judgement to avoid situations requiring their superior skills to survive.” But the question is: how does one develop such profound judgement? Pilot error is the leading cause of aircraft accidents worldwide.
How can we eliminate or mitigate such a complex risk? Experience, they say, is the best teacher, but not necessarily the safest. Obviously, the learning pilot faces elevated risks in the course of gaining the experience from which wisdom grows. A good approach that insurers often look at is the pilot’s ability to sample risky situations from within the safe confines of a full- motion cockpit simulator capable of providing exposure to nervewracking situations without the danger. Pilot error is an unforeseeable risk, but having sufficient training and experience certainly contributes to safer flying, and will make passengers and insurers sleep easier at night.
Risk two: Weather
Weather is one of the most erratic factors in aviation and constantly affects flight operations. Conditions such as thunderstorms, sandstorms, crosswinds, snow, hail and volcanic eruptions create hazards and risks that affect the safety and performance of flight operations, as well as take- off and landing approaches. With increasing air traffic, an understanding of these atmospheric phenomena becomes more critical. Being able to identify and use the various weather products and services effectively will facilitate decision- making, investigation and analysis. This will in turn enhance safety, as well as performance and reduce fuel costs and potential damage to aircraft arising from adverse weather.
Risk three: Bird strike
This may sound like a peculiar one, but a bird strike is a common risk in the aviation sector. A
bird strike or BASH ( bird aircraft strike hazard) is a collision between an airborne animal ( usually a bird or a bat) and a human- made vehicle ( usually an aircraft). Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety, and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties, although the number of major accidents involving civil aircraft is quite low.
The majority of bird strikes ( 65 per cent) can cause significant damage to the aircraft, and needless to say, the collision is usually fatal to the bird. Most accidents occur when the bird hits the windscreen or flies into the engine. These cause annual damages estimated at R11.6 billion to commercial aircraft worldwide.
Risk four: Hijacking
Listed as one of the biggest fears of mankind, aircraft hijacking is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or group of terrorists. In most cases, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers. Occasionally, however, the hijackers have flown the aircraft, such as during the September 11 attacks of 2001. In at least one case, a plane was hijacked by the official pilot.
'' Weather is one of the most erratic factors in aviation and constantly affects flight operations.''
In spite of almost universal condemnation of the practice of aircraft hijacking and efforts, both governmental and private, to prevent its occurrence, the unlawful seizure of aircraft continues to plague the air transport industry. Unfortunately, relief does not appear to be imminent, a fact deeply deplored by the aviation insurance industry.
Risk five: Mechanical failure
Problems with the aircraft or aircraft components can lead to safety risks. These include electrical, mechanical or hydraulic component failures. They also include metal fatigue that results in cracks, or materials that become delaminated or corroded. These risks can be minimised by the continuous inspection of the aircraft. The South African Civil Aviation Authority ( CAA) enforces a comprehensive list of safety procedures which include the continuous inspection of the aircraft’s mechanical components.
Significant aircraft disasters and losses:
JAL Flight 123 The crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, on 12 August 1985: 520 died on board a Boeing 747. The aircraft suffered explosive decompression from an incorrectly repaired aft pressure bulkhead, which failed in mid- flight, destroying most of the vertical stabiliser. Pilots were able to keep the plane flying for half an hour before crashing into a mountain.
Aftermath: The Japanese public’s confidence in Japan Airlines took a dramatic downturn in the wake of the disaster with passenger numbers on domestic routes dropping by a third. Without admitting liability, JAL paid 780 million Yen ( R80 million) to the victims' relatives.
[ Source: Wikipedia]
Tenerife airport disaster The Tenerife airport disaster occurred on 27 March 1977 when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos on the Spanish island of Tenerife ( one of the Canary Islands). With a total of 583 fatalities, the crash is the deadliest accident in aviation history. As a result of several misunderstandings in the ensuing communication, the KLM flight attempted to take off while the Pan Am flight was still on the runway. The resulting collision destroyed both aircraft, killing all 248 aboard the KLM flight and 335 of the 396 passengers aboard the Pan Am flight.
Aftermath: KLM ultimately accepted responsibility for the accident. As reported in 1980, the sum of settlements for property and damages equated to $ 110 million ( R1.06 billion) – an average of $ 189 000 ( 1.9 million) per victim.
[ Source: Wikipedia] 9/ 11 The 9/ 11 attacks were a series of four co- ordinated terrorist attacks launched by the Islamic terrorist group Al- Qaeda upon the United States in New York City and Washington DC on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. Four passenger airlines were hijacked by 19 Al- Qaeda terrorists. Two of those planes were crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Centre.
A third plane crashed into the Pentagon while the fourth targeted the State’s capital in Washington DC. In total, almost 3 000 people died in the attacks, including the 227 civilians and 19 hijackers aboard the four planes.
Aftermath: Insurance companies had to pay- out around $ 40 billion ( R391 billion) in insured losses. Around a third of this covered business interruption claims, while other claims included damage to property and vehicles, life insurance, liability insurance, aviation liability and workers compensation.
[ Source: Wikipedia]
Eyjafjallajökull Volcano Ash The European air transport industry was hit hard by the consequences of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland. The volcano, which erupted from 14 to 25 April 2010, created a cloud of volcanic ash which threatened to cover most of Europe. Volcanic ash contains many problematic substances – mostly silica – that harm aircraft engines and other systems. The national authorities had to take the decision to close off all affected airspace.
Aftermath: The International Air Transport Association ( IATA) estimated that the crisis cost airlines more than $ 1.7 billion ( R16.55 billion) worldwide in lost revenue. About 1.2 million passengers were affected each day. The Association of European Airlines ( AEA), which represents 36 major airlines, evaluate loss of revenue at £ 850 million ( R13.1 billion), considering that 52 400 of its flights were cancelled.