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After the flydubai tragedy, should we be worried about safety in the air?

After the flydubai tragedy, should we be worried about safety in the air?

Despite all the fears, today’s air travel is safer than it has ever been

When flydubai’s flight FZ981 crashed in the city of Rostov-on-Don in the early hours of Saturday, March 19, killing all 62 people on board, the rumour mill sprang into action.

Speculation over the cause of the tragedy was rife. Terrorism, pilot error, faulty equipment and weather conditions were all mentioned, spurring the airline’s chief executive Ghaith Al Ghaith to ask people to avoid conjecture and let investigators do their job.

Investigations are still being carried out.

It was a familiar scene, echoing those of at least 24 other fatal accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft since the start of 2013. Numerous others have also occurred in the same timeframe without any deaths.

Questions about safety have been raised again and again, and with the World Aviation Safety Summit taking place in Dubai later this month, there will be numerous discussions about how to make improvements.

The event takes place in an atmosphere of perceived mass anxiety over the safety of air travel. But despite the headlines, dramatic images and inevitable spread of information and rumours by social media, there is one fact that often gets overlooked. Today’s air travel is safer than it has ever been.

Statistics compiled by air safety analysts Ascend showed that 2015 was the safest year on record for air transport, with a global fatal accident rate of one in five million flights.

This marks a huge improvement over 2014’s already reassuring figure of one fatal accident per 2.38 million flights and 2013’s one in every 1.91 million flights.

Indeed, that the worst year on record for fatalities is 1972, with 2,429 deaths. This compared to an annual average of 354 fatalities for the 2010 to 2015 period, according to Ascend.

Advances in technology, combined with lessons learned from previous crashes, have allowed aircraft manufacturers to make flying a much safer experience. And with further developments comes the promise of even fewer dangers. Of course, there is still some way to go regarding air safety. Crashes and fatalities may be unavoidable, but there are certainly improvements to be made.

Flydubai itself will point to an almost impeccable safety record. As in most cases today, the incident in Russia is so far from the norm that it is a genuinely shocking occurrence.

And perhaps that is why anxiety sets in. In an age when air crashes are so unexpected, when they do take place it serves as a reminder that anything is possible. A fact that can have a significant psychological impact, especially when you add a heightened fear of terrorist attacks, perpetuated by some media outlets and public figures.

Incidents today are also more visible. Images and audio from the scene can be transmitted immediately and sent around the world via social networks, bringing the horror of such cases to life in a way that was never possible before.

The good news for the aviation industry is that these incidents have not deterred people from flying. Passenger numbers continue to rise, with the International Air Transport Association recording 3.5 billion flyers in 2015, up from 3.3 billion a year earlier – with a forecast of seven billion by 2034.

Passenger growth is increasing year-on-year, up 5.7 per cent in 2013, 6 per cent in 2014 and 6.7 per cent in 2015, according to Statista.

And it is just as well. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a 30 per cent reduction in demand across the United States and the suspension of non-essential business travel by many companies led to massive financial losses, thousands of lay-offs and a raft of costly

new security measures. This is an extreme example, but even smaller incidents can make a financial impact. Something Gulf Cooperation Council countries can ill afford. In Dubai alone the aviation industry is expected to contribute 32 per cent to gross domestic product by 2020.

The wider Middle East is expected by the International Air Transport Association to continue double-digit passenger growth throughout 2016, making it the fastest expanding region in the world. With dwindling oil reserves making business diversification key to the GCC in particular, this rapid growth is vital if post-oil economies are to build solid foundations in aviation, hospitality and tourism.

For now, it appears people’s awareness and appreciation of improved safety outweighs their fear. And while it is important to recognise the tragedy of flight FZ981, it is also necessary to remember the advances the industry has made to make such cases extremely rare.

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