Past Event

Spooked by a transatlantic tragedy: Are airlines standards what they should be?

International air travel has always come with a certain amount of uncertainty, as does any form of transportation. But the uncertainty and lack of answers surrounding the disappearance of Air France Flight 447 that took off from Rio de Janeiro enroute to Paris last week spooked a lot of seasoned air travelers, leaving many to wonder if airline safety standards are where they should be.

Some wreckage has been found, however, crash investigators aren’t sure they can recover the black box recorder that may offer clues to what happened. Ocean depths average just over 9,000 feet around the area where some of the debris was found, and the search effort is likely to be hampered by heavy thunderstorms.

A former flight attendant blogged that the ill-fated Air France flight particularly shook her: "I can’t even imagine what the families are going through right now. I’m chilled by the idea that this plane was struck by lightening and crashed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. … I have been trained that it is always possible to survive plane crashes, because in theory planes are supposed to float even in the ocean, but what is their situation like? Did they lose an engine, a wing? The search area is too big…"

Such imaginings showed up elsewhere in blogs as people pondered the perils of international travel in an age when technological advances have made planes safer and more sophisticated. "I would be lying if I sat here and told you that events unfolding in the Atlantic this weekend don’t bother me or my flying partners," another flight attendant opined.

Although the plane’s black box remains missing, the plane’s automated messages have been recovered, revealing that there were many errors that occurred on Flight 447 in quick succession. Federico Escher and Greg Keller of the Associated Press reported: "At 11:10 p.m., a cascade of problems began: the autopilot had disengaged, a key computer system switched to alternative power, and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged. Three minutes after that, systems for monitoring air speed, altitude and direction failed, and then controls over the main flight computer and wing spoilers failed as well. The last automatic message, at 11:14 p.m., signaled loss of cabin pressure and complete electrical failure – catastrophic events in a plane that was likely already plunging toward the ocean."

Those who’ve flown countless 12-hour flights over oceans imagined themselves aboard Flight 447 and have tried to understand what the 228 passengers aboard must have experienced in the final moments of their lives. Chris Leadbeater, the travel writer for London’s Daily Mail wrote, "the crashed Air France plane strikes me as the most chilling news story I have encountered in a long while."

Chris of Bremner the Associated Press wrote: "The Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic killing 228 may have stalled after pilots slowed down too much as they encountered turbulence, new information suggests." And Jean Serrat, a retired airline pilot, told Agence-France Presse: "If the BEA [accident investigation bureau] is making a recommendation so early, it is because they know very well what happened. If they know what happened, they have a duty to make a recommendation, for safety reasons … The first thing you do when you fly into turbulence is to reduce speed to counter its effects. If you reduce speed too much you stall."

Many are questioning, how in an age of such technological advances when planes are supposedly safer and more sophisticated, this could have happened. Others wonder, as passengers are scrutinized more thoroughly in this post-9/11world, why an aircraft has not been as thoroughly inspected, or pilots trained and these kinds of errors occur. 

With theories and blame swirling, investigators still cannot offer any conclusive explanations for what happened to Flight 447. Paul-Louis Arslanian, the chief of the French accident investigation bureau, said, "I cannot rule out the possibility that we might end up with a finding that is relatively unsatisfactory in terms of certainty." 

Do you think too many precautions are being taken in regards to scrutinizing passengers than the actual aircraft, and if so why? How is the media’s reporting on the disappearance of Flight 447 stirring up fears? Are these fears warranted? How should we be paying more attention to airline safety standards? Should investigators keep trying to recover evidence or do you think it’s a lost cause? What was your most harrowing flight experience? Will you not fly overseas now because of this disaster?  How interested have you been in knowing what happened to Flight 447?

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