Heav­ier than air: no­table avi­a­tion risks and claims

No­table avi­a­tion risks and claims

RISKSA Magazine - - CONTENTS - An­ton Pre­to­rius

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.

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