The News

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

27 September 2009 Starts Online Radio Station at GigaDial

Many of you have listened to one or more of's podcasts, or seen one of the's videos on its YouTube Channel. Now we've combined the two into a sort of custom designed online radio station, the Plane Crash Reports channel, hosted at GigaDial.

GigaDial is a service that allows anyone to put into one place a collection of audio or video files that deal with a particular theme or subject. The shows currently on's channel are some of the most popular shows from the podcast's history. However, the plan is to include other shows from other podcasts or other web sites in this channel, exposing the audience to a variety of viewpoints on aviation safety and security.

That is where the audience can help. We'd like to ask you to do one thing--visit the Plane Crash Reports station at GigaDial and see how well it works for you. We invite you to leave feedback here at the News, including suggestions for adding other shows to this list.

If you see a show, either in a podcast or an audio or video file on a site, please provide that information. We will add that information to the Plane Crash Reports station.

26 September 2009

Jet Airliners with Lowest Fatal Crash Rates

The previous entry on the News described the September 2009 update's listing of fatal plane crash rates by model. The video and audio podcast below discusses the aircraft models with the lowest rates. There are links to the video on YouTube and to downloadable versions of the podcast in MP3, MP4, and WMV formats.

Video and Audio Podcast Links (2:57)

Audio: MP3 | VideoiPod/MP4 | WMV | YouTube

Additional Resources
Plane Crash Rates by Model
Recent Fatal Plane Crashes

25 September 2009

Five Lowest Jet Airliner Crash Rates

Listen to the audio podcast of this article

In its latest update of fatal plane crash rates by aircraft model, has identified the top five models with the lowest fatal crash rates. The analysis uses flight data through the end of 2008, and crash data through August 2009.

Computing these crash rates was based on more than just the number of fatal crashes. The formula that was used also looked at the proportion of passengers killed in each crash. For example, if an airliner model had two fatal crashes in two million flights, and all the passengers were killed in one crash and half in the second, then the rate would be 1.5 planeloads killed divided by two million flights, or 0.75 per million flights.

Candidates for the top five ranking were limited to jet airliner models with at least two million flights through the end of 2008. Only events that killed passengers were counted.

At number five is the Canadair Regional Jet, number four is the previous generation of the Boeing 737, which includes the 737-300, 737-400, and 737-500. Number three was the Airbus A320 series, number two is the current generation of the Boeing 737, which includes the 737-600, 737-700, 737-800, and 737-900 aircraft.

Topping the list at number one is the Boeing 777. In service since 1995, this model has had just over two million flights and no fatal crashes.

Four other jet aircraft models all have less than two million flights, and like the 777 have not been involved in a crash that has killed passengers. Two are from Airbus, the A340 and A380, and the other two are the Embraer 170 and 190. These last two aircraft types are smaller jets frequently used by regional carriers in North America and Europe.

For more information on fatal plane crash rates, including details on how the rates are calculated, please visit

21 September 2009 Listing of Fatal Plane Crash Rates Updated has updated its listing of fatal plane crash rates to include flight data through the end of 2008. Among jet aircraft models with a history of at least two million flights, the current generation of the 737* has the lowest fatal lane crash rate, followed by the A320, the previous generation of the 737**, the Canadair CRJ, and the MD80/MD90. Of these models, the MD80/MD90 series has been in service the longest, since 1980. The previous generation of the 737 has the most flights, with just over 62 million.

Airliner models are ranked using a combination of the number of fatal plane crashes, the percentage of passengers killed in that crash, and the total number of flights of that model. Only plane crashes involving at least one passenger death are included.'s method of computing these rates gives more weight to those crashes that kill most or all of the passengers, and less weight to those that kill a small proportion of passengers. The formulas and definitions used are explained in detail at

The number of flights are current as of 31 December 2008 for the following models: Airbus, Boeing, BAe 146/RJ100, Concorde, Fokker, and Lockheed. Data sources for fatal plane crashes and airline flight data include Flight International magazine, Conde Nast Traveler magazine, the New York Times, ICAO, and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

* 737-600, 737-700, 737-800, and 737-900
** 737-300, 737-400, and 737-500

11 September 2009

Reflections on Aviation Security Eight Years after 9/11

Since the 9/11 attacks eight years ago, every anniversary brings an increase in interest by the media and by the general public. Last month, Dr. Todd Curtis of was interviewed by a researcher from Lancaster University in the UK about security post 9/11. Below are some of the questions and their responses. We would be interested in what you think about both the questions and answers, and welcome your feedback.

1. Would you say 9/11 changed our perception of aviation safety? That now the prevalence of terrorism has made many people think they have more chance of being involved in an air disaster than being killed in a car crash?

The biggest change is that security concerns became very prominent. At the governmental level, both before and after 9/11, airline security and airline issues were dealt with by different philosophies. Safety and reliability issues were usually dealt with through a regulatory and administrative process that was deliberate, open, and sometimes stretching over a series of months or years. Multiple points of view were often encouraged, and given the opportunity to become part of the debate. In contrast, security issues were often political in nature,
where quick and decisive action was demanded by governments and by the industry. As a result, many things were done quickly, but often without an open and objective process guiding policy.

As for the public's perception of risks in the air compared to more common risks like cars, there had been very clear differences in the public's opinion and the media's coverage well before 9/11. One example was a study I conducted on media coverage by the New York Times during a 17-year, pre-9/11 period of 1978 to 1994. Among other things, I found that fatal airline events that involved jet aircraft that were hijacked, sabotaged, or destroyed by military action, which represented about 8% of the fatal airline accidents reported by the Times during that period, accounted for about 48% of all the airline accident articles in that period. I have not looked at the post 9/11 era, but I suspect that if the same study were conducted for the years 1995-2009, the percentage would be even more skewed.

2. Would you say the creation of the TSA and the federalising of airport safety has made us safer or is it an illusion?

I would say that it has made part of the security process more consistent, and has given the government the ability to implement changes more quickly. On the other hand, some parts of the security process appear to remain in place because of habit or appearances rather than because of effectiveness. One example is the policy of screening shoes. The reason is because one person tried, luckily without success, to explode a bomb hidden within a shoe. While it makes sense to be concerned about a future event, it doesn't make sense to focus on shoes (every size shoe, even the thinnest sandal) while ignoring dozens of other devices that could hide as much or even more explosive than the average shoe. Anyone intending to do harm with a similarly sized explosive would simply use a device that is not closely screened.

3. Do you think in the post 9/11 climate there is a dilemma between preventing another attack vs. allowing passengers to travel freely?

I don't think so. Even before 9/11, security procedures used by organizations from airport screeners to national intelligence agencies worked to identify, deter, and prevent hijackings, bombings, and other acts of deliberate mayhem. That dilemma, or more precisely the need to balance security and freedom of movement, existed before and after 9/11. The difference is that in the current environment, the threats are considered to be much more organized and potentially much more lethal than in the past. The ongoing debate is whether the measures that are being taken now are too much, too little, or just right.

Unfortunately, it is hard to say if most of the measures that have been taken have been effective. Because of the nature of the threat, the general public will have little or no insight into the threats that did not lead to a bad outcome. In contrast, there are plenty of ways to measure how effective current and proposed safety measures are. When accidents happen, they are thoroughly investigated and the
results published for the entire world to see, and information from the thousands of incidents that don't result in accidents are available for study and analysis. Unlike the open databases of the NTSB, FAA, and AAIB, the files of the FBI, CIA, NSA, MI6, and GCHQ are closed to the public.

4. Would you say that the Lockerbie disaster that saw the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on the 20th August and the September 11th attacks in 2001 illustrates the changing nature of aviation terrorism? That the Al Qaeda use of aeroplanes as controlled weapons, in the hands of terrorists makes dealing with the threat of terrorism harder?

I believe it does for several reasons. The biggest is that a nation can't afford to be seen as backing a large terror event such as 9/11. The consequences to Afghanistan's government for harboring Al Qaeda was that it was attacked and driven from power. Any country that attacks the US or a US ally could also expect a response that is swift, certain, and severe.

Al Qaeda used relatively few resources to carry out their attacks. They were apparently not funded by a government, but were certainly harbored by one. There are many organizations, including corporations, that also have the resources to carry out even more devastating attacks without the direct involvement of a government. In my opinion, any group intending to do similar harm in the future will likely learn from Al Qaeda and not associate with any particular leader, government, or physical location. By being a group that is not associated with a particular nation, it would make it much more difficult for the victimized nation to deal with the attack through traditional means such as economic sanctions backed by fleets of B-52s and Predators.

On the subject of aircraft as controlled weapons, Al Qaeda was not the first entity to successfully crash a plane into a Washington, DC area building. Seven years before the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the White House was struck by a small Cessna, but the aircraft only minor damage and no injuries. Coincidentally, the aircraft took off on 9/11/1994. Like on 9/11 seven years later, the aircraft was also tracked on radar before the crash. This 1994 event was not due to a politically motivated hijacker, but due to a disturbed individual. would welcome any comments you may have about this article.

10 September 2009

Social Media Insights from

If you have used social media applications like Skype, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or are curious about how you can use social media, you may want to check out two recent posts on's Bird Strike News site at

The first describes how combines a blog with both a mailing list and Twitter to talk to three very different parts of the audience at the same time.

The second talks about ten different free social media related applications you can try, from Blogger to Twitter to Google Alerts. For each type of application, suggests one for you to try.

That post also has links to several examples of social media applications currently used by

Next week, Dr. Curtis of will be in Victoria, Canada, where he will present the paper "Social Media, Bird Strikes, and Aviation Safety Policy" at the 2009 Bird Strike North America Conference. Attendees at the upcoming conference will have the opportunity to not only attend the presentation, but also to have Dr. Curtis evaluate their organization's approach to using social media.

06 September 2009

Social Media's Role in Airline Safety

Listen to the audio podcast of this article

The January 2009 ditching of the US Airways flight in the Hudson River was a rare combination of a spectacular plane crash that generated massive worldwide attention without killing anyone.

The plane went down as a result of a midair collision with a flock of geese shortly after takeoff from New York's La Guardia Airport. For aviation safety organizations involved with dealing with the threat of bird strikes, among them Bird Strike Committee USA, the US Airways ditching in New York was an important event because the accident will very likely lead to industry wide changes in regulations and procedures associated with bird and wildlife hazards.

This event also served as an excellent example of how popular social media applications like Twitter and YouTube affect how the public finds out about plane crashes. It also shows that any organization that wants to play a significant role in any public debate about bird strike hazards should aggressively use these and other social media tools to help educate and inform the public.

While the accident took place on the doorstep of the most important media center in the United States, many of the early images from the crash came not from the media, but from witnesses. One of the most well known photos was from a cell phone camera of Janis Krums, a passenger on one of the ferry boats that helped to rescue passengers and crew. The picture was uploaded from the passenger's iPhone to TwitPic, a service that allows Twitter users to upload photos (see photo on TwitPic).

Twitter wasn't the only social media application working overtime that day. Video sharing sites like YouTube were flooded with user-generated content that collectively had hundreds of thousands of views within a day.

If social media applications like Twitter didn't exist, a plane crash in New York City would still get massive amounts of attention from the major media. However, the "Miracle on the Hudson" accident also showed how an average eyewitness of a dramatic news event like a plane crash can easily distribute images and other newsworthy information that could reach tens of thousands in a matter of minutes.

Until recently, one of the few options for online publishing was through a web site. Ten years ago, helped launch the Bird Strike Committee USA web site, One of the stated purposes was to have the site act as a resource for the media and the general public, especially if there were an event like as a bird strike-related crash.

Even in the days before Google, search engines were the most important way that users could locate information online. Because the web site had been active for many years, and because it included a wide range of bird strike related information, the site was often among the top results for many bird and wildlife strike related searches. Because of this, major media organizations were able to find basic information about bird strikes and to contact many of the key Bird Strike Committee USA members, and as a result many of these members were able to provide insights and information to a broad audience in the hours after the crash.

It used to be that you only needed a solid web site, or perhaps a blog to keep an online audience informed. This approach is no longer good enough. You need more than web sites and blogs to keep in touch with an audience, because that audience is using emerging social media tools to develop different kinds of ongoing relationships with other users, and to find news and other information.

For an example of the differences between the Internet of today, and the Internet of a few years ago, one just needs to look at the online realities of two New York area plane crashes, TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and the 2009 Hudson River ditching involving US Airways. Flight 800 happened in July 1996, just two weeks after was launched. While there were many web sites like that provided information on the crash, web sites controlled by major media organizations like CNN and the BBC were by far the most important sources of information for news about the crash.

In 1996, there was no YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, Flickr, or any other easy to use tools for sharing photos, videos, and other information online. While had plenty of information about Flight 800, the site had only a tiny impact on the public's awareness of the accident, with only about 35 visits on the day of the crash.

In contrast, within minutes of the US Airways ditching on the Hudson, there were thousands of people around the world who were contacting each other on Twitter, uploading videos to YouTube, and photos to Flickr. True, much of it was simply copied from traditional news organizations, but some of it was both original and unique. In many cases, traditional media relied on the public for information rather than the other way around. By the way, traffic on was a bit higher in 2009 than it was in 1996, with about 12,000 web site visits on the day of the event, plus at least 5,000 views or downloads of's initial podcast about the crash.

The changing nature of the Internet, and the dramatic rise in the importance of newer social media applications, makes it necessary for organizations like Bird Strike Committee USA to expand its relationship with the Internet. Fortunately for the Committee, there are many examples of social media use that can be followed, and most of them require no up front or ongoing costs. Perhaps the most pressing needs are in the following three areas: first, a review of existing web site policies and content to ensure that the site continues to rank well for key wildlife hazard related search terms. Second, development of policies or guideance for the use of evolving social media applications, to better coordinate public education and public outreach efforts. Third, encouraging the use of these same social media technologies among the organizations that support the work of the Committee.

While the early development of an informative web site was an innovation that put Bird Strike Committee USA well ahead of similarly structured aviation safety organizations, recent events have highlighted the fact that adopting at least some of the newer social media technologies is essential if Bird Strike Committee USA is to maintain its relatively high online profile.

For additional information about Bird Strike Committee USA, and about bird strike-related issues, please visit

Selected Social Media Applications Used by
Podcast (main page)
Podcast (subscription)
Mailing List (online press releases)
Bird Strike Blog
Crash Video Blog

03 September 2009

FAA Orders A330 Pitot Tube Replacements

The FAA today ordered operators of certain models of the Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft to replace the type of airspeed sensors suspected of playing a role in the crash of Air France Flight 447 last June. These aircraft models use three of these sensors, and the FAA stated that at least two of three sensors must be replaced.

This airworthiness directive (AD) resulted from reports of airspeed indication discrepancies while flying at high altitudes in inclement weather conditions. The change, which is similar to changes already ordered or recommended by Airbus and by the European Aviation Safety Agency, would prevent airspeed discrepancies, which could lead to disconnection of the autopilot auto-thrust functions, and consequently would increase pilot workload. The FAA also stated that depending on the prevailing airplane altitude and weather, this condition, if not corrected, could result in reduced control of the airplane.

This airworthiness directive makes it mandatory for any operator based in the US or flying to and from the US to make this change within the next 120 days. The two US operators that currently fly the affected models include US Airways with about 11 A330 aircraft, and Northwest with about 20 A330 aircraft. No US operator currently operates the A340.

Although the pitot tubes that are the subject of the AD have not been identified as a cause of the June Air France crash, information from that crash led to a review of similar loss of airspeed events by the NTSB. For example, the NTSB found that in May 2009, an A330 flown by the Brazilian company TAM Airlines lost airspeed and altitude data while flying from Miami to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Autopilot and automatic power also shut down and the pilot took over. The computer systems came back about five minutes later.

In another NTSB report, on 23 June 23 2009, a Northwest flight hit rain and turbulence while on autopilot near of Kagoshima, Japan. Speed data began to fluctuate, with the aircraft alerting pilots it was going too fast. Autopilot and other systems began shutting down, and the crew had to manually control the aircraft.

According to an Associated Press report from last month, the NTSB discovered at least a dozen previous instances of brief losses of airspeed information when it reviewed past flight data for Northwest's A330 fleet. All of the incidents took place in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which extends from 5 degrees north of the equator to 5 degrees south, an area known for its frequent and intense thunderstorms. All the planes involved in those events involved safely.

Additional Information on Air France 447 Accident