The emphasis on the pilots and their attempted landing in heavy rain at Phuket in the One-Two-Go crash misses one point. Heavy rain, often with treacherous winds or down draughts, is routine for airlines serving Thai airports.

It’s “routine” tropical airport flying as performed thousands of times a day in SE Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, Africa and even Australia, where the Transair disaster approaching Lockhart River occurred in rainy windy conditions.

While the pilots are being blamed early for the crash which killed at least 87 people, the core issue is the flight standards and safety culture of the airline, or any airline which kills passengers.

Airlines are legally responsible for ensuring their pilots have the skills to land in heavy rain, and for having a safety culture that ensures they fly a go-around for another attempt, or even divert to another airport, if conditions are unsafe.

The accident investigation should make it clear if the pilots intended to land or were trying to do a go-around, or whether there was a mechanical failure in the MD-82, and if so, whether it had been adequately maintained.

There will also be claims made about the safety of “budget” carriers in general when the issue is really the safety of One-Two-Go, which has six aged 747s flying regional international routes under the “Orient Thai” banner, and is now down to six primarily domestic MD-82s.

These are the statistics which will get hammered into whatever shape suits the pro and anti-budget carrier voices.

One-Two-Go started flights late in 2003. Since that time, the world has seen 37 fatal crashes of scheduled airlines of 10 seats or more, claiming a total of 2541 lives if the latest body count stops at 87. Eight of these crashes were in budget carriers, accounting for 927 fatalities.

This year there have now been eight airline crashes, killing 550 people, which included at least 376 people in three budget airline accidents, the others being the TAM crash in Brazil (187 dead) and Adam Air in Indonesia (102 fatalities).

Deaths to people on the ground have not been included. Garuda, which crashed at Yogyakarta in March, is a legacy carrier. Transair was not a budget carrier. Two of the disasters since One-Two-Go took to the skies involved Russian airliners simultaneously destroyed by bombs.

The major global low cost carriers, Southwest, Ryanair, easyJet, Air Berlin, JetBlue, Westjet, AirAsia, the Virgin Blue group and the Jetstar group have not had a fatal crash between them.

Peter Fray

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