As part of writing Bracing for Impact, we get daily Google alerts about plane crashes and other news happening in the aviation industry so that we can share interesting stories with our followers on Facebook and Twitter.
What strikes me most is the number of people who are killed everyday in air accidents that no one ever hears about unless the crash happens in their local area. Today, there were seven deaths in the Google arlert; yesterday there were two; the day before that there were nine….and this pattern is typical.
Just this week, a man from Chester, NJ (the sister town to the one I live in) went missing in his small plane. It took a couple of days, but the rescuers eventurally found the plane near the small strip where he was taking off. And still, many people in my area never heard anything about it.
All of the crashes I’ve mentioned above involve small planes, not commercial airlines which are always front page headlines when they happen.
There are all kids of reasons why. Most of the NTSB (part of the FAA) investigations will point to pilot error, but this doesn’t tell the whole picture. Sure pilots need to know how to make an emergency landing when a problem occurs, but this doesn’t negate the fact that the engine failed in the first place.
In the US, the general aviation (non-commercial planes) industry has some pretty powerful federal protections. Manufacturers are protected from liability if something happens on a plane that is 18 years or older even if negligence is involved. This might not sound unreasonable, but the average age of single-engine planes registered with the FAA is 41 years old.
In addition, there are many known design flaws that contribute to accidents. One example is the bolt failing on Cessna pilot seats that causes the seat to slide back so far, that the pilot can’t reach or control the plane. The military changed the part in their planes in the mid 1970s, but civilian owners have never been required to and most haven’t bothered.
So, if a Cessna crash happens due to the seat sliding back, whose fault is it?