Aviation safety hurt

August 11, 2014 - 12:27:25 am

It has been an unsafe year for air travel. The sixth crash in less than eight months should goad civil aviation organisations into action.

The Sepahan Air crash in Iran yesterday is the sixth major air accident to take place in less than eight months this year. The flight carrying 48 people came down four minutes after take off from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, killing 39 people. The charred remains of the Iran-140 plane were strewn on a street near a busy market. The tail section lay on a road, not badly damaged, indicating that the aircraft most likely plunged nose first. 

Iran, a regional power, still operates planes from the period before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Because of Western sanctions, the government finds it difficult to procure spare parts, which are mostly manufactured in the West. This has compromised the safety of Iran’s aviation sector for a long time. The plane that crashed was a twin-engine turboprop, a misfit in an age of highly sophisticated jet aircraft.

While major airlines in the world vie for buying the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A380, Tehran is forced to make do with aviation technology from the 60s and 70s of the last century. Iran Air still flies the Fokker 100, of which it has 16 in its 51 aircraft fleet. 

There have been more than 200 accidents involving Iranian planes in the last 25 years leading to over 2,000 deaths. 

A slew of crashes have worked to undermine public confidence in air travel this year. The dramatic disappearance of Malaysia Airline MH370 on way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in March triggered a raucous debate on air safety among aviation strategists, civil aviation organisations and airlines. Till date, the Boeing 747 has not been found after a months-long multinational search costing millions of dollars. The case of Flight MH370 has made aviation history. But one cannot ignore other air accidents, whether they involve fewer or larger number of casualties. MH17, another Malaysian airliner recently shot down over war-torn Ukraine has intensified the debate on aviation safety. Quick on the heels of the MH17 being brought down, came the US air strikes on Iraqi jihadis. Leading airlines have been prompt enough to ban flights over Iraq and take a detour.

Many airlines that earlier flew over Iraq have decided to use the Iranian air space, so that aircraft tracking websites show a stream of planes flying over the country in a single file. It is clear this has led to congestion in the Iranian air space. 

It is too early to find the cause behind the crash of the Iranian airliner. However, it is clear that aviation safety has to be looked at in a new perspective — even though it may involve making exceptions for sanctions on nations for the sake of the larger good•