Terry Tozer: Airline with worst record in Europe

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The Independent Online

Inevitably, we want answers and equally, few are available immediately, but we can make some observations.

The impact appears to have been at relatively slow speed and there was no fire. The plane seems to have almost, "pancaked" into the ground. Those factors will have had a major influence on survivability, as will the fact the aircraft landed in a flat open area with no obstructions. As there was no fire, was there any fuel? We will soon know.

This is the fourth serious accident since August 2008, when a Spanair MD-80 crashed on take off at Madrid; the others being the Hudson River crash and the fatal Continental Airlines crash at Buffalo, New York on 12 February, in which all on board died. Why the difference in survivability?

In the Buffalo case, the plane hit a house but was also out of control and possibly spinning. In Madrid, the aircraft was at take-off speed – over 150 mph – and left the runway before entering a ravine. The chances of surviving these events were slim indeed. So how can you enhance your chances of survival?

By choosing the right airline in the first place. The single biggest factor that affects your safety is the culture at work in the airline you choose to fly with. In a top class major airline, pilots will receive top class training. It will take place every six months and cover two days in a simulator practising all manner of emergencies and unusual procedures.

In such an airline, safety will be the number one priority and the drive to meet commercial demands will not be allowed to override that.

I now step into a well known minefield, as there is simply no way of knowing immediately what caused the Turkish crash. Yet we do know Turkish Airlines has the worst record in Europe. Airsafe.com lists fatal accidents by million flights since 1970 and, while many have none and other well-known names register, say, 0.17, Turkish hits 3.58 with nine crashes.

The Madrid crash appears to have been the result of some questionable practices and the Buffalo crew were relatively inexperienced and new to the aircraft type. Only Captain Sullenberger and his crew stand out as highly experienced, well trained and working for a large, respected carrier. US Airways' fatality rate is 0.28 and that was due to a subcontracted – ie, cheaper– regional airline which crashed while operating one of their flights. A subcontractor was flying for Continental in Buffalo too.

"You pays your money and takes your choice," as the saying goes.

Death toll mounts

Yesterday's fatal incident was the second involving Turkish Airlines this decade – the first, in Turkey in 2003, killed 75 when a plane crashed nearly a kilometre short of the runway. The airline suffered a number of serious crashes during the 1970s, with 608 passengers killed in roughly two years.

The author is a retired airline pilot who writes on airline safety issues at www.terrytozer.co.uk