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Aviation Safety UPSC NOTE

 Recent aviation incidents and their implications for air safety

  • The issue of air safety has played out under intense media scrutiny.

  • In the first instance, on January 2, a Japan Airlines (JAL) Airbus A350-900 collided 

  • In the second instance, on January 5, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 with 171 passengers and six crew, was departing from Portland, U.S., when a window panel ‘door plug’ blew out mid-air causing depressurisation. 

  • The incident has renewed attention on the Boeing 737 MAX’s troubled flight safety record.

  • On January 12, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. announced more “oversight on Boeing” which will be in addition to its probe into the incident

  • In its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), U.S., is also focusing on the cabin pressure control system

  • The FAA has added that every Boeing 737 MAX 9 with a plug door would remain grounded till there was a thorough review. 

  • In the Alaska incident, parts of the seat next to the ‘door plug’ were damaged, while some other seat frames were twisted. 

  • The ‘door plug’ was found later in a neighbourhood in Portland

  • A few mobile phones of passengers were sucked out. 

  • India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation also reported an unidentified Indian operator of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 finding a missing washer during a maintenance inspection

  • This follows a Boeing directive in December 2023 asking 737 MAX operators to carry out checks after a loose bolt was found in the rudder control system of a 737 MAX.

What about newer aircraft technology?

  • There is increasing use of composite materials in Airbus (A350) and Boeing aircraft (787 and 777), which ensure a combination of durability, strength and low weight

  • In the A350, more than half of the plane’s structure was composite, with the use of advanced materials such as carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). 

  • The JAL fire was a real world test for such an aircraft, and the forensic analysis will offer valuable technical insights to investigators and manufacturers.

  • In the Boeing 787 programme, for instance, there have been computer simulation models of the behaviour of composite materials in extreme situations, but these have left structural and material experts divided

  • But in fire tests by the FAA in November 2007, plastic composites were shown to withstand fire much better than metal. 

  • Boeing also issued official guidelines to airport firefighting departments on the use of standard techniques to put out a 787 fire, which included aspects such as a “toxicity perspective”.

  • In the U.K., the most significant accident involved a British Airtours Boeing 737 at Manchester Airport in August 1985. 

  • The investigation resulted in many recommendations on changes to an aircraft cabin.

  • In today’s world, says Prof. Braithwaite, aviation safety regulators require new aircraft types to meet a standard whereby all passengers can be successfully evacuated in 90 seconds or less, and with only half of the exits in use. 

  • There is also the role of the cabin crew and the airport rescue and firefighting teams. 

What are the key safety improvements? 

  • Dr. Hassan Shahidi, President and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, Washington DC-Baltimore Area, U.S..

  • The FAA-governed improvements have also led to improved standards being put in place

  • These include: 

  1. Improved flammability of seat cushions adopted by the international aviation community; 

  2. Floor proximity emergency escape path marking;

  3. Lavatory smoke detectors; 

  4. Lavatory fire extinguishers; 

  5. Halon fire extinguishers; 

  6. Cargo compartment liners; 

  • According to a senior Airbus official, aircraft certification requirements and processes are among the toughest in any industry, and it is up to the aircraft manufacturer to demonstrate that all safety requirements are met. 

  • He added that the 90-second (evacuation) rule applies to all aircraft no matter what material the fuselage is made from. 

  • The evacuation test was indeed part of the A350’s certification.

  • A senior airline commander says that the 18 minute event — it took the JAL crew 18 minutes to get every passenger off — points to the design aspect linked to delaying the effects of a fire. 



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Aviation Safety UPSC NOTE
Aviation Safety UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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