Blood money

There are two kinds of  blood money. The money you have to spend after an accident to make sure it is not repeated, and the money you think you save by not acting on a threat to safety. The latter is of course converted to the former after that specific threat inevitably caused an accident. It is said that ”todays flight safety is written with passenger blood”. That’s a bit of an overstatement. Every conceivable threat could not be anticipated and a lot of money was spent increasing overall safety. But the fact remains that people were killed were stricter regulations regarding manufacturing of airplanes, airport systems and operational procedures could have prevented sad turn of events.

Over the more than half a century of commercial passenger flying, safety has increased dramatically, to the extent that in 2017 not one single passenger was killed in what is considered regular commercial passenger flying. That’ a remarkable feat. All blood money has been well spent, including investments in all safety improving area where no accident so far has happened. But things change and not always in the right direction. New threats appear in the wake of weaker economy in the industry, followed by the deregulation and the dawn of low-cost carriers. When money is scarce you have to cut corners wherever you can, and savings in operational costs affect maintenance, fuel reserves, pilot training and excessive duty hours among other things.

The economic pressure on airlines affect manufacturers as well. Cost-cutting among airplane makers, including all kinds of outsourcing and hiring of low-cost labour forces, started in earnest at the turn of the century, where lower unit price, fuel and operational economy and minimum pilot training were main sales arguments between the two major competitors. It was only natural to choose light-weight litium batteries for a new aircraft type, even with their history of causing fires. They did of course do just that, causing worldwide grounding of the entire fleet. Fortunately no blood money had to be paid out for that savings program. Unfortunately that is not valid for the next world-wide grounding of an entire fleet. The ambition to sell a plane as cheap as possible hit back with yet unknown, but surely catastrophic repercussions. The only consolation is that safety will be improved even further.

But we still have to contend with old threats not yet fully corrected. We still have crossing runways, runways not long enough, not perfect radar and communication coverage everywhere, flights in the middle of the airway, non-precision approaches still not outlawed, local languages in lieu of aviation english, dangerous goods onboard etc etc etc. The wallet of blood money will have to be opened again. Airlines are adopting to reduced safety margins approved by authorities, believing they are doing the industry favors. Investing in preventing exactly everything seems kind of unnecessary when everything is running so well, doesn’t it? A lot of areas have in fact been constantly improved. Statistic speaks clearly. 100.000 flights every day of the year and literally no accidents. So all is well…….