Is the Sky Falling, or Is that Just Another Plane?


A photo of debris from the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board died.

Meredith Morgan, Staff Writer

A photo of debris from the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board died.
A photo of debris from the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board died.

In 2014 the world experienced several devastating plane crashes that involved planes which disappeared, malfunctioned, were shot down or hijacked. Whatever the cause of these losses, many people are left wondering if flying is safe anymore. Flying is still by far the most practical and time-saving way to travel. Even with all of the recent accidents, airlines saw a record-breaking year in profits with lower fuel prices and more people than ever flying to destinations both domestic and abroad. It seems unlikely that these incidents will stop people from flying, but how should the accidents of this past year be addressed?

Surprisingly, 2014 had one of the lowest numbers of lives lost in commercial plane crashes/accidents worldwide in history, according to the Aviation Safety Network. With only about 760 deaths total, last year went remarkably well compared with other years like 1972, which saw almost 2500 deaths caused by commercial flight malfunctions and crashes. Still, a lot has changed in aviation since 1972, and many travelers feel with all the technological improvements and upgrades airlines have made that even less accidents should be taking place.

Yes, planes themselves have advanced a lot in recent years, but they are still operated by fallible humans, and herein may lay the problem. The regulations pilots face are enormous and the demand for more flights to run more often heaps heavy stress on many commercial pilots. Regulations for pilots include a required amount of time off duty that may not be enough for the pilot to feel fully rested and coherent before flying again. According to the FAA, the required down-time is just eight hours per 24 hours, a new regulation as of January 2014. Others include the prohibition of substances such as alcohol or prescription drugs from the system before entering a shift. These regulations, along with thousands of hours of required flight time before operating a commercial airplane, are required for pilots and are intended to prevent the “operator error” factor in plane accidents. However, in many of the plane crashes and disappearances of last year, pilots were targeted as the contact point for many disappearances and fatal crashes.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in March of 2014 started a series of plane accidents last year that seemed like a monthly occurrence. The cause of its disappearance (eventually confirmed as a crash), was determined as faulty equipment. Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was shot down over the Ukraine, poses another set of concerns for travelers: how instability within regions of the globe can affect their safety when travelling through them, either through air space or in airport layovers.

Flyers may feel insecure right now, and recent accidents in other commercial forms of transportation leave people with few options. Ferry disasters like the ones in Italy and Korea have also left travelers concerned that there is no safer option to travel. However, flying is still the most practical and timely way to travel abroad, and for now passengers will have to trust that operators and airlines are taking every precaution for their safety.

For many in the PC community, travel is an integral part of life and an important factor in continued education, social tolerance, and cultural understanding. Almost all the destinations for study abroad programs or Maymester trips that PC facilitates are with airlines and countries that are all very safe and have had no accidents to cause concern. To ease doubts, passengers can look at an airline’s safety history and incident information online as well as government safety warnings for various destinations that may be of concern. Check out the Federal Aviation Association or the Transportation Security Administration websites for more info.