Air France 358 and the media

It has been a while since a major world airline operating a state-of-the art aircraft has been involved in an accident sufficiently telegenic for the 24h news media to stay with it for a day. Telegenic maybe, but thankfully the Air France flight AF358 accident was not tragic – nobody on board or on the ground was badly hurt.


It seems no-one in the broadcasting media has noticed that serious airline accidents rarely happen nowadays. Listening and watching, it was if flight safety was still back in the early 1980s, despite the fact that – according to ICAO figures – fatal accident rates then were six times what they are now.


On publishing our annual airline flight safety review the last two years (Flight International, 20-26 January 2004 and 25-31 January 2005) we put out a media release providing the figures and a synopsis. The figures were good, and so were the long-term trends. The feature – and the release – made the point about how devoid of major accidents the world was happily becoming, and cataloguing the technology, ideas and effort that had made the difference between then and now. Only one station in the world took up the good news – BBC News 24. It was really surprising to them, and they ran it as a kind of freak fact. Both years.


Now AF358 happens, and all the old clich駸 roll out once more on all the stations. When it became clear that there had been no fatalities, it was universally agreed that this was a miracle.


It may have been many things, but a miracle it was not. The fuselage had clearly not suffered major impact damage despite ending up in the notorious shallow ravine at the end of Toronto Pearson’s runway 24L that has taken lives before now. It is no miracle when passengers all escape from an un-deformed modern aircraft fuselage before a fire takes hold. That is what the aircraft design, the airline’s procedures, the crew training, the airport crash rescue and fire services all aim to ensure, and the system worked. That is not a miracle: that is science, training, and hard work. Why is it that even quality media stations and newspapers revert to the language of religious superstition when people survive an airline accident?



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