Air safety drill faces shake up

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The Independent Online
RESEARCH by aviation experts aims to discover whether pre-flight safety instructions for airline passengers actually help save lives.

The Aviation Study Group, based at Linacre College, Oxford, will study whether more information should be given to passengers to improve their chances of surviving an emergency. The group already wants safety innovations such as smoke hoods and rear-facing seats to be adopted by airlines.

Dr James Vant, chairman of the ASG, said his organisation would consider the argument that pre-departure information was simply "kidding everybody that everything is going to work out fine" and whether airlines "ought to get down to something more useful to the passengers".

David Baxter, a lecturer in aircraft operations at Southampton University, said pre-departure information involved difficult decisions. "There is a balance between giving passengers information which could save their lives and scaring them witless," he said. But disasters that kill all passengers are becoming rarer, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The proportion of passengers surviving air crashes has risen from 10 per cent in the Sixties to more than 50 per cent, a record the CAA attributes to improvements in aircraft design, crew training, and airport and rescue facilities.

From 1986 to 1995, UK airlines carried some 570 million passengers and were involved in three fatal accidents and 56 passenger deaths - a rate of less than one death per 10 million travellers. Flying remains 13 times safer than car travel.

"Whether you think the pre-departure information is worthwhile depends on how fatalistic you are," said a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority. "If you don't take any notice of the pre-departure information your chances of surviving a crash are lower than those of someone who has."