The three U.S. plane crashes that have occurred since early July mark the deadliest period for airlines in the country since 2009. According to a recent article on the subject in BusinessWeek, the three crashes all have a common, and dangerous, thread: they might have been avoided if the pilots had simply aborted their landings.
The recent crash of Asiana Airlines into the seawall at San Francisco’s airport occurred due to what investigators say was a flawed landing approach. Later, a Boeing 737 crashed into a LaGuardia runway so hard that its landing gear buckled and then last month a UPS cargo plane crashed in Alabama after falling short of the runway.
According to the Flight Safety Foundation, a Virginia-based research institute, getting pilots to abort landings if they have not made a safe approach to the runway is the largest and lowest hanging piece of safety fruit left to ensure that flying is made safer. The organization noted that accidents that take place during a landing approach or at touchdown are the largest category of airplane errors and deaths. The single biggest factor in these accidents is a failure to approach the runway at a proper speed, altitude and heading, something that is known in the industry as an unstabilized approach.
Safety experts are saying that if regulators and airline operators can find ways to better train and persuade pilots to abort landings when they start off wrong, also known as making a “go-around”, then both lives and money can be spared. Currently, studies show that a lot of work remains to be done. Data that includes computerized flight-track records shows that the overwhelming majority of pilot, 97 percent, continue to land even if their approach is unstable, this despite rules that clearly state the pilot should abort and circle around to try again.
According to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been at least 21 cases since 1999 where pilots could have prevented accidents or injuries had they simply aborted landings that should have been aborted anyway. The Flight Safety Foundation conducted a survey to find out why pilots ignore rules requiring them to go-around and found that in many cases the pilots that refuse to abort landings have a dulled sense of risk and were often poor communicators with fellow crew members. Another common response among pilots was that they did not believe they would be reprimanded for continuing to land, something that indicates regulators and airlines need to do a better job of enforcing existing rules.
Whatever the reason, it’s important that regulators take steps to improve the current situation before any other airline disasters occur. Given how easily prevented the problem appears to be it is unacceptable that people should be injured or killed because some pilots decide not to follow the rules.