Aviation - School of learning

A brief history of flight and flight safety


Flight Safety, past, present and future.

The Wright Flyer.

Some History.

Humans have dreamed of flying since early times. Humans have always wanted to fly when they saw birds soaring overhead. Flight has fascinated man. There were several attempts of flying throughout history. Many ended in failure. People tried to copy birds by attaching wings to themselves and jumping off high places. Kites that flew without humans were also a form of flying they consoled themselves with. The world renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci had his own visualization of flying machines in the 15th century. Flight, was attained in some forms when the hot air balloon came into being. That lead to air ships. But humans always wanted more.

1903 was the turning point in history, when the Wright Brothers flew the Wright Flyer in sustained flight. It was the first time in history that a heavier than air object flew and sustained flight. Not only that, it could be controlled to a certain degree.

Enter Commercial Aviation.

When flight was achieved, it was ever fascinating. But it was also left to those who dared. Flying became an adrenaline filled adventure. Only a few daredevils flew in the earliest aircraft. It was still the trial and error method that made new aircraft designs. So accidents and fatalities were commonplace for the earliest flyers. The rich, the daring and those in the military flew. The rest preferred to watch from the ground. As World War I ended, airplanes had found a significant role on the battlefield. But gradually, the deadly airplanes started to opt for more peaceful jobs.

The United States’ started using airplanes for ‘air mail’. And this is significant because this was the first step towards using airplanes for commercial purposes. When eventually, people started flying on airplanes to get from one place to another, they also wanted to get there in one piece. And hence, the need for flight safety was born. Aviation has come a long way since the Wright Brothers flew that airplane in 1903.

The oldest and newest Boeing airplanes fly together. Aviation has come a long way.  Credits: Wired.

 

The philosophy of flight safety.

When airplanes that carried people became bigger and bigger, the problems also grew. There were fatal accidents that killed many. And after every accident, something was learned. Those in the aircraft manufacturing business and airline business now knew that for it to be profitable, it also needed to be safe. Hence, aircraft accidents were investigated. The cause scooped out and the necessary adjustments made.

Gradually, the process became systematic. And even better when instead of reacting to accidents, the design features simulated possible failures and measures were taken in advance. What is commonly known as ‘mechanical failures’ gradually decreased. Accidents due to the machine failing became less and less. But accidents still continued to happen.

When investigations were carried out, the accidents were not caused by the machine simply failing. But the machine being operated incorrectly by the operators. Turns out, humans focused on the machine but did not focus on humans. The latest addition in flight safety therefore became Human Factors.

Source: ICAO

 

The Human Problem.

With time, as machine causes of accidents decreased, the human causes replaced them.

Modern day aircraft, safer than ever, are extremely sophisticated. With this increased complexity, comes increased chances of human error. Operating and handling these systems requires active consciousness of human behavior. New systems are built to fit the human. But the human, in any case, requires some fitting to the system design too.

There are tons of examples where the machine was at no fault. But improper handling, not on purpose but due to obvious human tendencies, caused disasters. The biggest disaster in aviation history, was caused by miscommunication.

Aviation authorities have recognized this fact. Human Factors training now is a part of almost all aviation domains. From flying to maintenance and everything in between, human factors applies to all.

Safety and the future of aviation.

The rate of aviation incidents has fairly been constant, but ICAO predicts that air traffic is going to grow massively in the coming years. This means that even if the rate of aviation accidents is the same, the absolute number of accidents will increase. For example, if the rate of accident for one road is 1 accident per 10 cars, now double the number of cars. The total number of accidents becomes 2 instead of 1. More efforts need to be made to bring down the accident rate, keeping in mind the increase in air traffic.

With present day social media, any aviation accident is widely documented. And sensationalism is common in such cases. For aviation to be profitable, safety is to be the absolute number one priority. Ironically, some companies in search of profit compromise on safety. Any compromise on safety is bound to haunt back as a massive loss. Plenty of examples present. Yes, safety comes at a cost, but that cost is investment. And in the long term, it can turn profitable.

 

Blog Credits: Aviation Geeks (http://www.aviationgeeks1.com)


Date: 02 September 2019    Comments: 3


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