Letters: Air travel

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Air tickets are cheap, but air safety is very expensive

Sir: Comments like "Statistics tell us that it's safe to fly" do not tell the whole story ("A summer of aircraft crashes", 6 September). Air travel only tops the safe list when compared by miles travelled. If one uses hours travelled, air travel comes in third, and measured by journeys undertaken, it comes in seventh, behind motor vehicles.

There are signs that the aviation industry in some areas is beginning to rest on its laurels. The Association of Licensed Aircraft Engineers has been warning for some time now that cracks are beginning to appear, but these warnings have been falling on deaf ears.

We are in agreement with the statement: "All modern airplanes are safe, but they may not be if they don't get maintained properly and the crews don't get trained properly." The problem is that in this multi-million pound industry, maintenance, upkeep and training all cost large sums of money - but ticket prices remain low.

Most people understand that you do not get something for nothing. The flying public needs to know that training and maintenance have come under the accountants' eyes. This leads to a game of cat and mouse between operators and regulators. A good regulator such as the UK CAA will tend to be right up there with the latest trends of cost cutting and putting a stop to it if necessary. Other regulators are not so professional.

This brings us to another problem. Aircraft, by their nature, are not confined within their home country's borders. That means that the standards and risks related to any aircraft follow it wherever it goes: not just those on board are at risk; those under the flight path are too.

Finally, there are parallels with the rail industry. The early 1990s in the UK saw union warnings about standards being ignored. We all know the results of that. If history were to repeat itself within the aviation industry, the results would be devastating.



Katrina reveals the truth about Bush

Sir: You are absolutely correct when you write that the "struggle for the soul of America is gathering pace" (leading article, 5 September). Finally, the American public is waking up to the fact that the Bush administration is incompetent when it comes to national and international challenges.

This realisation may be too late however. Corporate America has control of all major media outlets and it has been able to co-opt regressive and ignorant right-wing religious fanatics in the country to do its bidding. This ingenious scheme, which combines state-of-the-art marketing tools with extreme religious zealotry to push corporate agendas, has worked beyond expectations. For nearly five years, progressives and liberals have been unable to do anything more than cry "shame" and wring their hands.

The result has been more pollution, fewer libraries, more crime, fewer after-school programmes, more international danger and fewer funds for levee repairs. The list goes on and on.

Only with the total devastation of a major American city have most members of the public been given the chance to see President Bush and his ilk for what they are: elitist incompetents with nearly unlimited power to hurt the nation and the world.



Sir: Seeing how quickly the American right is retrenching and refashioning the details concerning Hurricane Katrina I feel impelled to respond to Bruce Anderson's column of 5 September.

He may find it peculiar that centuries of slavery might still have a profound impact on black Americans. But what he fails to acknowledge is that up until only 40 years ago, black Americans, especially down South, in the states most affected by the recent hurricane, couldn't defecate, wash or eat in the same places as whites. For generations they had been told they were second-class citizens, less than human. Anderson himself, had he been a black American, would have lived the first 20 years of his life under such legal restrictions and would have grown up as a child watching his father and grandfather suffering the same ignominies.

So forget about ancient history Bruce, the scar is still evident. The notion that you have an equal chance in society beyond the escape route of sport or entertainment remains very recent for most Southern working blacks.



Sir: Bruce Anderson cites an America that is founded on work, responsibility and law. US government policy has for years consistently worked to deny the funding necessary to defend New Orleans from catastrophic flooding, most recently by directly channelling it to the disastrous military adventure in Iraq. Tales of courageous black men going out in boats and taking responsibility for saving hundreds of their countrymen are emerging, backed up by witness statements, yet where is the evidence to support Anderson's claim that 90 per cent of so-called looters were from one-parent families?

The truth is that desperate black families in a nightmare situation were doing what they could to stop themselves and their children from starving in the lap of the world's richest superpower. That is the disturbing evidence that the Bush administration cannot suppress.



Sir: It is undeniably heartless to deny charity to the needy of Louisiana just because one disapproves of the policies of their nation's leader. I don't imagine those are poor, black Republicans that I see on my TV screen, and making them shoulder the blame for George Bush is only as sensible as suggesting that I am personally responsible for Tony Blair.

There remains, however, an overwhelming and overriding reason for not giving money to America, which is that America already has most of the world's money. It just prefers to give it to Halliburton and Exxon, rather than people who need it. When I hear it baldy stated that the USA simply does not have a culture of state aid to those in need, I'm afraid that my reaction is that this is an extremely good time to start cultivating one.



Sir: Every time a member of the Bush administration speaks we hear that they are praying for, or that their prayers are with, the hurricane victims. The one thing that those around New Orleans have had plenty of time and opportunity to do over the past weeks is pray for themselves. I think they would have dispensed willingly with the time taken up in praying for them if these same supplicants had spent more time in providing earthly assistance



Drug firms make trial results public

Sir: The pharmaceutical industry agrees with your desire to have a public database of clinical trials (leading article, 22 August). So much so that it has already launched a scheme to achieve just this.

Under the scheme, industry-sponsored clinical trials being performed to determine a medicine's therapeutic benefit will be publicly registered at initiation so that patients and clinicians will have information about how to enrol. The results of all clinical trials on a medicine that has been approved for marketing, and which evaluate its safety and benefit, will also be disclosed via free, publicly accessible databases, regardless of outcome.

Both requirements are being adopted by the worldwide pharmaceutical industry this year. The results will include a description of trial design and methodology, results of primary and secondary outcome measures described in the protocol, and safety results.

The international pharmaceutical industry has provided a lead in making clinical trial information available, and it is now up to other sponsors of clinical trials to commit themselves to follow suit.



At last, a team worth watching

Sir: James Lawton is quite right when he says that cricket will not become the new football ("Cricket is just a fabulous fad", 7 September). I am a lifelong cricket fan and it has not taken an incredible Ashes series for me to start realising the many examples of its superiority to football.

The moribund state of international football only underlines the decline of the game and the folly of having a national sport where the interests of club managers are placed ahead of the goal of making England the world champions. The standard of the last two major tournaments has been woeful.

But this aside, cricket is simply more entertaining, complex and interesting than football. It has a sense of values and history that football can never hope to match.

As well as this, the England cricket team have achieved something that I have never witnessed in an England football team: they are worth watching.



Dual nationals in passport ordeal

Sir: Don't delude yourself, Caroline Flint (letter, 31 August). It's not just "people of colour" who have a bad time at British immigration. We are dual nationals of Canada and the UK (born here and took Canadian citizenship later). At present we live and work here. To be allowed to travel on Canadian passports and live here, you have to have a stamp in the document saying you are entitled to live in the UK. In the past, when you got a new passport, immigration could stamp it free. This was changed (with no publicity at all) a few years ago, and when my husband's passport expired, and he hadn't the new stamp (for which you now have to send your passport away and pay £55 - we know of people who have not received them back in over nine months) he was mercilessly grilled, and I really thought they were going to deny him entry.

This also happens to people merely in transit. We know people from the US who have changed flights at Heathrow. They all say never again; in future they will travel via Amsterdam, which is great for those in Heathrow's flight path, but does nothing for our international reputation.



The pavement's no place for cyclists

Sir: Pavements are for pedestrians. Pavements are for children, for the elderly, for the infirm, for the strollers and the shoppers, the starers and the stoppers. No, Gerald Haigh (letter, 27 August), cyclists and pedestrians are not on the same side; pedestrians value leisurely strolling, cyclists speed.

Nor, as Dorothy Lewis (letter, same date) pronounces, is the moaning about cyclists heard exclusively from people without children; nobody minds a small child on a learner trike tootling along, providing parents are there to remind them to tinkle their bell politely.

Pedestrians reserve the right to assume that they can slowly and safely saunter across the pavement to put rubbish in a bin, a letter in the postbox, to chat to a friend or to peer in a shop window at something that has just caught their eye - without checking for a speeding cyclist zooming up their rear. The pavement is the last bastion of the city flaneur; leave us our leisure.

Moreover, painted lines on pavements are inadequate: cyclists need their own demarcated lanes and then they can mow each other down, or not. Cycling is wonderful - but cyclists are taking the easy option by commandeering pavements. They must fight for their own space.



Spelling and accent

Sir: Rob Churchill's letter (3 September) shows that he is trapped in his own accent: for a majority of the native English speakers around the globe, the name Masha and the word "masher" are pronounced differently, and so should not share a common spelling. This is the problem with spelling reform; whose pronunciation is to be taken as the one represented by the spelling?



The Marrakesh Express

Sir: Thanks for the good cannabis guide ("High Society", 5 September); it will no doubt prove invaluable. It's useful to know that The Independent recommends Charas; god knows, one does not wish to waste valuable money on reconstituted oregano. Perhaps next time you could produce a Saturday edition too ... you know ... "50 Best Joints". I'm a little disappointed you left off the web links though; can you recommend a supplier? Tell me...er ...is it legal now or what?



Turner's intentions

Sir: Philip Hensher (Opinion, 7 September) is right that The Fighting Temeraire is a marvellous picture, but for all the wrong reasons. It does not portray a golden afternoon at sea but a wonderful dawn and the real subject is the steam tug representing the future towing the past, the wooden ship, to its rest. This is a painting of Victorian energy and optimism looking forward not, as Hensher seems to suggest, an essay in nostalgia. Whether the Today voters realised this is another matter, of course, but its encouraging to think that they might have done.



It's not rocket science

Sir: On 6 September, a headline told us "Shuttle scientist among the missing Britons". However, from the text it is clear that the man is an engineer. Shuttle science is relatively simple: fourth-form Newton's Laws, sixth-form calculus, and bits and pieces of first-year university science. The devil's in the engineering, which is beyond the scope of most scientists. Please: give credit to those who make space travel possible.



Dogs' dinner

Sir: Following your correspondence on the timing of dinner (letter, 6 September), I thought you might be interested to hear of some research I've been doing with my dogs. When I get home my four Jack Russell terriers greet me as normal, but when I offer them lunch all I get is a blank stare. However, once I offer them dinner all hell breaks loose in their excitement. On further research, at breakfast they want dinner and at lunch they also want dinner. It seems they are quite happy to eat dinner at any time of the day.