Three air crashes is the past one week. The most chilling one is the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine with 298 on board. The other two crashes have attributed to weather related causes. If we recall there have several near collisions of aircrafts in air or on runaways. Air travel was touted as the safest. I am not sure what the basis of that claim was. The right way of comparison would be the ratios of fatalities to respective modes of travel like air, train, roads and waterways at some macro level.
International commercial passenger air travel is increasing @ of 5.1% pa & its doubling every 15 years. In addition to this there is freight air traffic, plus military air force traffic. Add to this lower altitude traffic from helicopters, small private plans. Executive jets, etc. So skies are indeed quite crowded at all points of time.
Highest traffic is in the North American airports. About 2 mn passengers fly daily, one bn per annum and 60 million flights per annum. But over the next twenty years there will be a tectonic shift towards Asia Pacific where most of the incremental traffic will emanate with huge incremental GDPs, rising middle class and wealth. Are we prepared for this explosion of air traffic. As it is, we are facing so many near misses through providential whiskers of cat. The infinite forces have been kind. Below I have quoted shares of global air traffic:
Based on 2013 figures, Asia/Pacific remains the world’s largest region, with a 32% share of total capacity representing an increase of +7.0% over 2012. Despite an improving economic climate in Europe and North America, the capacity of the European and North American airlines grew below the world
average, growing at +2.8% and +2.1%, respectively. The Middle East region remains the fastest growing in the world, expanding at +11.9% in 2013 and accounting for 9% of the world traffic. The capacity offered by the airlines of Latin America/ Caribbean and Africa represents respectively 5% and 3% of the world total, and expanded +4.6% and +4.9%, respectively.
All this is adding tremendously to the CO2 emissions which a aggravating global warming and climate change precipitously. The carbon footprints left by airlines are lethal.
Some of the other collateral risks in air travel are: proliferation of drones both military and commercial which sometimes come dangerously to the paths of the big metal birds. Bird hits near airports are yet another unavoidably hazard of flying. With greater urban concentrations these poor birds have no option but to meet their doom by coming in the way of the big birds.
There has been a new urban phenomenon of aerotropolises coming up around new international airport. Just like 100s of years all great cities grew around port towns on rivers and seas.
Some of the other risks which flying entails are pilots who report to duty with higher than permissible alcohol and substances in their blood streams. A notable movie “Flight” stirs up a lot of existential emotions. But the biggest risks in airline industry has been spawned post 9/11. Airport security checks have been heightened considerably. Cost of flying gone up considerably. As it is most airlines are flying at losses. There is a lot of mergers and amalgamations in the airline industry in order to keep afloat.
All is if we compare with our pastoral lives 500 years ago when people hardly ventured beyond twenty miles of their villages by foot mostly. Life was truly simply and less energy intensive. Then came trains, cars and finally planes. The world truly became our oyster. Globalisation truly has its dark underbelly and flipside. All this scientific progress comes with a cost.
Now the new face of terror is truly diabolical. These rogue terror outfits equipped with these deadly SAMs are ably the reach for the skies and no one is safe. Any long international fight has to fly over so many not so friendly countries and also so many with conflict zones. It’s difficult to predict which of these rogue terror outfits does not have SAMs. We are truly at the mercy of international terrorists. In addition there are military aircraft flying all the time, including stealth aircraft which are off the radars.
Hence the question arises how long flying will be safe with these proliferating SAMs like virtual landmines and the other big birds.
If I may touch upon a pet theme of mine: UFOs are also out there adding more complexity to an already complicated picture. The truth is truly out there.
Which leaves us with the existential question: to fly or not to fly. Are these signals for us to rewind our hi tech lives and gradually adopt pastoral lives. Back to the family where we belong.