Letter: Accident statistics for air shows

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From Mr Sean Maffett

Sir: Whenever there is a bad crash at an air show there always follow reports that air shows have more than their share of accidents and that pilots and aircraft are pushed to the edge to impress customers or thrill a crowd ("Nimrod deaths inquiry team flies out", 4 September).

Let me offer you a few facts. In the 23 seasons from 1972 to 1994, there were 64 accidents at British air displays - and there are hundreds of air displays every year. Most accidents were minor with no injuries. Thirty- two people were killed in those accidents, but no air show spectator has been killed at any air show in Britain in the past 43 years. And fewer than half of those 64 accidents actually happened while the aircraft was doing its display sequence. The rest were during practice or, for instance, as the aircraft arrived or departed.

The figures do show that display fighting is slightly more dangerous than other sorts of aviation - but that should not be surprising. Perhaps the nearest equivalent in entertainment terms is motor racing, and that is clearly more dangerous than driving to the shops. But in terms of numbers of spectators on-site, air shows come second only to football. More people in this country go to air shows than to rugby, to horse-racing, cricket, tennis or motor racing. As top display pilot Brian Lecomber says

Anybody who suggests that display flying is a safe occupation is a fool - but equally the suggestion that air shows have 'more than their share' of accidents is not right. In Britain in the last five years one pilot has been killed (and no spectators) for every five million people entertained at air shows. No other comparable sport can boast that record.

Britain leads the world in air show legislation designed to prevent "showing off". British civil display pilots are tested by "Display Evaluators" approved by the Civil Aviation Authority before they can achieve the coveted "Display Authorisation".

Britain is, in fact, exporting its display legislation. The European Joint Aviation Authorities will soon publish proposals which include the British Display Authorisation scheme, and member nations will be invited to adopt the schemes into their own legislations.

Yours faithfully,

Sean Maffett

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

5 September