How safe are our skies?

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THIS past weekend brought us the tragic news of the crash of an EgyptAir jet with 66 people on board, which fell into the Mediterranean Sea on its way from Paris to Cairo.

The cause of the crash is at this point still a mystery, but the suspicion of the authorities and much of the public is that it may have been a terrorist act, even though no terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility for it.

The EgyptAir crash is the latest in what seems like a string of frightening air disasters. In March, a FlyDubai plane with 62 people aboard crashed in Rostov, Russia. Last October, a Russian airliner with 224 passengers and crew crashed in the Sinai after a terrorist bomb planted on board exploded. In July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine, resulting in the deaths of all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. And of course, there was what is perhaps the most famous aircraft disappearance in history, the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 somewhere in the remote southern Indian Ocean in March 2014.

There have been other incidents as well, and EgyptAir even suffered a near-tragedy in March when a mentally disturbed hijacker forced a flight to divert to Cyprus. That incident fortunately ended harmlessly; the hijacker released all the passengers and crew, and then surrendered peacefully, whereupon it was discovered the bomb he claimed to have was fake. Nevertheless, it was still alarming that a hijacker, harmless or not, could slip past security and actually board a flight.


According to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN) website, which tracks every commercial or military aircraft accident, there have been 60 incidents so far this year, with a total of 226 deaths. Forty-three of the 60 incidents recorded so far resulted in no deaths or injuries. Statistically, flying is as safe as ever; the chances that any traveler will be in a plane crash are infinitesimally small, and based on ASN data, the chances of surviving a plane crash are better than 90 percent.

The reason we have the impression that flying has become much more dangerous is because the rare occurrence of a large passenger aircraft crashing or disappearing tends to be spectacular, and even more so when the cause is something frightening, or a complete mystery. Flight MH17 was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile apparently fired by mistake; the FlyDubai flight crashed due to an argument between the pilots; the Russian MetroJet crash in the Sinai was a clear case of terrorism.

It is that last cause, in this era of widespread extremism and violent attacks being carried out against innocent civilians in unexpected places like Paris and Brussels that worries us the most. Airliners are quite obviously tempting targets for terrorists, and there have been enough cases of cracks in airport security in different places around the world to suggest that it is just a matter of time before another tragedy occurs.

The Philippines, as reliant as it is on air travel to bring tourists to the country and allow travelers to move around our many islands with convenience, cannot afford to compromise on security, which is why presumptive President Duterte’s stern warning to would-be scam artists and other non-performers at our own airports was welcome news. We hope that the determination to clean up corruption and improve performance extends to ensuring the country’s air security is first-rate.

So far, thank God, our country has not suffered a significant breach of security and that’s good, but any sign of complacency will make the Philippines a target. Proper vigilance will ensure that it does not.

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