PROVO, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – How often do commercial flights have problems? The answer to that question may surprise you, and new research out of Brigham Young University shows airlines often ignore those close calls.
Peter Madsen ( Ph.D.) calls the close calls ‘near misses,’ or hazardous flight conditions that could have caused emergencies but didn’t. The associate professor at BYU says such problems often include incapacitation of a flight crew member, software or mechanical problems with cockpit displays, poor handling of aircraft after touch down, and false alarms.
After studying 64 U.S. airlines and their recorded data from 1990 to 2007, Madsen found these so-called near misses are not always reported.
“There may be some missed opportunity there. There may be some events that are happening, and because they’re not similar to events that have caused accidents in the past, they don’t look hazardous, and people aren’t reporting them,” Madsen told Good 4 Utah’s Ali Monsen.
Madsen says airlines seem to be responding to issues only when problems present an obvious risk. Prior research shows 68 percent of commercial airline flights have these near misses, as defined in Madsen’s study.
Despite the alarming statistic, research shows flying is still the safest way to travel; in fact, 2014 was the safest year in aviation history, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and pilots at Utah Valley University say there is a reason for that.
“I mean, we’re on the airplane too. We have families, we have children, we have wives at home, so we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize our own lives,” said Capt. Jim Green, a former Navy and commercial pilot and current instructor at UVU.
Green says real issues are rare and is adamant crew members are reporting them.
“We have checklists we do for everything… we have a quick-reference handbook for any type of emergency in the cockpit…” Green said. “There were times when something might happen. We’d fill out three reports, each of us, to submit,” he recalled.
Green admits that there is always room for a little improvement, as Madsen has suggested.
“We do hope that airlines will pay attention to this research,” Madsen explained.
Both agree that flying in the face of danger should never be an option.
Madsen’s research was recently published in The Society for Risk Analysis journal.