Sunday 7 January 2018

And the planes!

Eeee, we do love a bit of death in our news. We have a certain cause to feel collectively smug for 2017 to clock the lowest number of Irish road-deaths since records began. But the well known statistical concept of regression to the mean dictates that the road-death toll for 2018 is likely to be higher . . . but not 3x higher! If you listen to the news at all, you will have heard that the number of commercial airplane fatalities worldwide in 2018 was zero. If only because of the derision attached to President Trump's claim of responsibility for the success, albeit on twitter which trivialises and simplifies discourse: 'Unlike Obama, Trump won't let any planes crash' which he later clarified / qualified with “I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation,”

You may have heard that news, but it's just not true! as a thoughtful, data-driven piece in Forbes clarifies.  For starters my statement above misses out a key adjective: jet and excludes jet freighters. If. If you include (smaller) turbo-prop data and the ACT Airlines 747 freighter that came down in a village in Kyrgyzstan in January, the the death toll rises to 64. Even so, that's better than the score for previous years 2014= 864; 2015 = 471; 2016 = 271 which is looking shockin' close to a straight line pointing at 2017 = 0.

The implication, as for the Irish road-deaths data yesterday is that death-count is a good surrogate for 'the state of the nation' or here the state of aviation. In fact there were several near-misses, crap landings and in-air disasters which could have had a "no survivors among passengers or crew" outcome but for good luck, good air-traffic control, and good pilots.  For luck compare Air France AF66, CDG to LAX which suffered an "uncontained engine failure" while flying over the edge of Greenland and had to divert to Goose Bay in Canada. Uncontained engine failure is where the whizzy bits inside the cowl come through the casing at speed. A similar event occurred in 1989 to UA 232 when the flying debris severed the hydraulic control-lines. The shards from the AF66 engine didn't hit the fuselage, so the damage was ring-fenced. Incidentally the nacelles [engine casings] of jet-planes are designed to shear off from the wing under certain adverse conditions: discarding the damaged parts.

If you believe the trendline in my graph, or indeed Mr Trump, you'll have to conclude that 2018 will bring negative deaths in commercial jet-liners. I guess that means homeward-bound coffins opening up in the baggage hold and the incumbents demanding dry roasted peanuts and a complimentary drink.

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