Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mega-Disasters: Jet Collisions (History Channel)

On July 8, the History Channel aired the latest in the Mega-Disaster series, “Deadly Jet Collision”, which examines runway or airspace head-on airliner crashes.

The film opened with a mention of the need to clear the skies of about 4000 flights on September 11, 2001.

Much of the program told the story of the collision at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife Island, Spain in the Canary Islands on March 27, 1977, of two Boeing 747’s, resulting in 583 fatalities, the largest airline catastrophe to date in world history. One problem (according the recovered hardened flight recorder) was airliner cockpit culture, where the pilot did not fully believe his copilot.

The show also examined some other accidents, such as one in Milan in 1981. It did not examine weather-caused single crashes, like Delta Airlines crash in Dallas in August 1985 in a sudden thunderstorm, when I was living in Dallas. I was entering a health spa when I heard about it. It would actually indirectly affect the course of my own life.

The show discussed air traffic controller hours and fatigue, and the way we depend on their work. without realizing it.

The conclusion of the film demonstrated a hypothetical runway crash of a new 800-passenger airbus with a 200 passenger plane in fog.

Ironically, today there was discussion of a near miss at Kennedy Airport because of perpendicular runways, which also exist at Dulles and Reagan in the Washington area.

The strain on the system to perform without delays was stressing the airlines before the current runup on jet fuel prices (for all airlines except Southwest, which had negotiated a futures contract earlier). Recreational air travel had become common for the middle class all over the world, but it is definitely threatened now by fuel prices as well as the demands of safety.

Surprisingly, I did not see safety expert John Nance in the film.

I actually took a free flying lesson (with an American Airlines coupon) at Dallas Redbird Airport in 1982.

Picture: Airline traffic, from Udvar-Hazy NASA "control tower" museum at Dulles Airport, VA

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