Travel by air is considered to be the safest and the fastest. That is why it is expensive and beyond the reach of many. It may still be the fastest but, with increasing number of disasters in the sky, there is a growing concern.
Every time news of an air crash appears, people have second thoughts on safety, even if it is momentary. The aviation industry has been hit with several disasters in the recent past. In 2014 alone, there were six major air crashes involving commercial airlines. 1,090 people were killed and some are still missing.
Just as we are recovering from the shocking Air Asia accident that crashed into the Java sea killing all 162 on board in December, the Germanwings plane crash that killed all 150 onboard came as a stark reminder of air travel safety. It is the eighth commercial airline disaster since the mysterious disappearance of MH370 last March.
Experts, who study plane crashes, say that, despite the huge number of deaths, people shouldn’t be scared to fly, and that most of the recent crashes were fluke incidents, and the frequency of accidents and deaths is actually declining.
There may be truth in that but it is not at all consoling, as the aviation industry is growing and the volume of people flying increase with air travel becoming cheaper, forced by competition. The so-called budget airlines have already become popular, enabling more people to fly and for more airplanes to crowd the skies.
Even at home, we are seeing more and more Bhutanese fly, as incomes increase and competition brings down the cost of travel. The average Bhutanese traveller has changed. It was once the privileged civil servants and some businessmen. Today, even an average family can afford to fly once a year on unofficial tours.
Globally, every air disaster brings safety to the forefront. A lot of expert investigations are done and airline executives and companies are informed about risks and the need for improved coordination. The recent disasters should also serve as a wake up call for our airlines too.
We have a good safety record and, in fact, foreigners wonder, in awe, how our planes are manoeuvred safely to the little airport in Paro. We are also reputed to have one of the scariest airports in the world. Air traffic has increased, while Paro airport has become congested.
Fortunately, we have not recorded a single accident in Bhutan that has claimed lives so far. But it has occurred outside our borders. A crash in Nepal tragically claimed the lives of 18 Bhutanese, and we had a near miss some time ago when a military plane flew very close to a Drukair aircraft over Dhaka.
Our airlines must remain vigilant and maintain our excellent safety record, and continue not to let commercial profit take precedence.
It was a welcome move by the government to grant oversight authorities the money, no matter how high, they need to hire critical safety officers, even if the move came only after 17 long years of repeated requests by the agency.
But more needs to be done. Aviation safety is something we cannot compromise on.
We have to keep up with the growth in the aviation industry. Paro airport is already considered a highly challenging area for pilots. The congestion at the airport needs to be addressed, for one.
It is also worth noting that our airlines are the only ones that allow passengers in the cockpit when in mid air. Is that wise? We cannot with certainty say it is or not, despite our small close-knit society, but we should abide with international aviation rules that disallow this.