A trained commercial pilot, who retired last December, after 40 years of a successful career, has assuaged fears in air travel, vouching for its safety ahead of travelling by road.
According to him, it remains the “safest mood of transportation” with “percentage of accident very low compared to a road accident.”
Fear in air transportation has surged, following the last two aviation accidents which claimed all of its passengers onboard.
A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight went down over the Java Sea last October, killing all 189 people on board, and on Sunday, an Ethiopian Airline plane (Flight ET302) plunged from Nairobi’s skies, killing all 157 passengers and crew.
Since then, wave of countries have grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, including an order by the Civil Aviation Administration of China on Monday that called for all the jets to ground by 6 pm.
In the melee, several air travellers have called off their trips.
That notwithstanding, speaking to Myjoyonline.com Tuesday, Michael Yaw Foli intimated that the rigor quality assessment that births pilots and routine maintenance protocols which precede every air travel, reduces the chances of aviation accidents.
Though he concedes that every institution has its Achilles heels, “the possibility of an aviation accident is rare,” he said.
What makes air travel safer?
According to Foli, air travel is safe because of quality pilots. He said not everyone can become a pilot. According to him, one must have knacks for discipline and science.
That is not all.
Demonstrating with Ghana Airways processes of recruiting their pilots in the late 1970s, he said A-level passes in the sciences qualified one for a series of interviews and examinations, leading to a merit-based selection.
The retired pilot added that successful candidates earned a £20,000 scholarship to be trained at the prestigious Oxford Aviation Academy in the United Kingdom, to pursue a basic piloting programme known as Ab Initio.
Those who successfully pass the basic training undergo a further medical examination and proceed to study aerodynamics, a physics course which includes how aircraft fly, what happens if you go below a certain speed or above a certain speed.
Foli recounted that there is also the study of electrics, the engine of an aeroplane, radio waves and aids, and other courses.
Successful candidates proceed to the practical flying lessons. Those who fail this have just one opportunity for re-sit.
The former Ghana Airways pilot said during the practical lessons unless a person flies a minimum of seven hours without the help of an instructor, he is grounded with their career ending there.
According to him, successful pilots have confidence but overconfidence can also be a basis to be failed. “But nothing is more important in this process than discipline,” he added.
Despite this rigorous process, a qualified pilot never flies alone, he recounts. According to him, there are always two of them, a captain and a co-pilot. They both do the various legs of the travel intermittently with the captain being responsible for the outcome of the journey.
Air travels are safer also because of its safety and maintenance protocols. According to Foli, no aircraft takes off without maintenance, without fuel checks, without extra fuel for an alternative route (in case of emergency).
Then there is the selection of a third alternative route, which the pilot decides ahead of the trip to land in case of an emergency.
Foli added that while the plane is airborne there is continuous information from the aviation units to the pilots, communicating bad weather and any other information relevant information.
Possible causes of an accident
The above notwithstanding, aviation accident, though rare, do occur.
Foli said first when engineers make mistakes during maintenance accident can occur. For instance, they can leave something onboard which should not be there.
Secondly, a designed fault, like what happened in October with Lion Air, can cause an accident. It happens when a manufacturer makes a mistake while designing the aircraft.
Thirdly, poor weather can cause a crash. He said out of ten instances, a pilot can takeoff in bad weather, and this may cause an accident.
Forth, is bad judgment and mistakes on the part of the pilot. According to him, a pilot may misjudge a situation. Every aircraft has the limit it can take in terms of wind and turbulence. If a pilot decides to land an aircraft under a condition that exceeds the limit of the aircraft, there can be a crash.
What to do when an accident is imminent
Foli said in turbulent situations, pilots should remain calm, reduce speed and assure their passengers.
“For forty years I have seen a few things, experienced engine failures, I have experienced hydraulic failures, been through turbulence, but we are trained to reduce our speed to a certain level (the turbulence level) and you ask the passengers to fasten their seatbelt, then you ride through it,” he said.
What should be done in the advent of an accident?
However, in the advent of an accident, he has called for a swift “investigation” to allay the fears of stakeholders.
Such investigation he said must start with “locating what we call the black box. The black box records everything, direction, altitude, acceleration, configuration, among others.”
According to him “there is the cockpit recorder. This voice recorder records all the conversations in the cockpit. It records conversations between the controller and the pilot.”
Having retrieved these two, “then the information is analyzed,” he said
This is done by accident investigation bodies in countries. In America, it is the National Transportation Safety Body (NTSB).