Since time immemorial, human beings have wanted to fly so bad that they have spent a lot of time and resources towards this quest.
Whether in an aircraft or not, the quest to conquer the skies is both bewildering and sometimes outright insane.
Take wing-suit flying for instance, where a flyer is dressed up in a body fitting suit with webbed wings between the arms and legs and dives off an aircraft, raised platform or cliff.
The aim here — ridiculous as it sounds — is to glide through the air like birds do.
It doesn’t get dumber than this, but if you fancy going out with a bang, this is your ultimate ticket to Valhalla.
Patrick de Gayardon, the man credited with the winged suit design, died during a test flight and of the 75 pioneers of winged suit flying, 72 have perished while undertaking this risky pastime.
A review of related “flying” activities like bungee jumping, sky diving or paragliding have one thing in common though — the recorded fatality rates are amazingly low.
In fact, you are 25 times more likely to have a fatality in a road accident than a sky diving mishap.
The United States Parachute Association’s 2015 statistics put fatalities at 21 for an estimated 3.5 million jumps — that’s approximately one fatality per 165,172 skydives.
This is a big difference from the 1960s, where there was an average of 3.65 fatalities per one thousand jumps.
Extreme sports and hobbies aside, and if you quiver at the very thought of gliding down to earth from the sky, air travel is not much behind when it comes to improved safety records.
There has obviously been a quantum leap in the safety processes and procedures in the intervening half century. Regulatory authorities the world over, have overseen development of innovative technologies and procedures to make flying (by whatever method) safer, greener and more efficient.
The Aviation Safety Network reported 2016 as the second safest year on record after 2013, which saw one fatality per 11 million people that flew – that’s about 265 deaths.
The 1970s were however ranked as the deadliest in commercial flying, with over 16,000 fatalities recorded — with as many fewer flights!
What has changed over the years to improve airline safety and have it rank as the safest form of transport?
Aside from the improvements in safety management systems, particularly the emphasis on human factors like training and preparedness of crew, technology, namely the introduction of electronics and digital instrumentation has taken centre-stage in aviation safety.
Flyers should take comfort in knowing that all safety systems such as air navigation, power generation and flight control systems etc in an aircraft are duplicated, triplicated and in some cases quadrupled to mitigate failure of any primary system.
From a regulatory perspective, all critical aircraft systems must have one or more backup systems.
Take, for instance, aircraft engines: Even in the instance of failure of one engine in twin engine aeroplane, a single engine can still handle a takeoff, actual flight or landing.
But even in the case of total engine and power system failure mid-flight, modern aircraft have a backup system called a Ram Air Turbine (RAT) that deploys and uses the airstream to generate power for flight critical systems and controls.
So essential has been the RAT system to flight safety that it is are responsible for saving approximately 2,000 lives in documented occurrences.
If we were to take a closer look at the most popular passenger airliner, the Boeing 737, the aircraft has three fuel tanks and within each tank, there are two redundant fuel pumps to cater for any failures.
The redundancy in aircraft systems goes beyond power systems and into many other components like navigation, hydraulic, electrical, oxygen and radio systems.
Passengers can rest easy in the knowledge that safety concerns drive design and manufacturing in modern aircraft.
While there is no duplicity in bungee jumping equipment, it is sufficiently safe – I would highly recommend you book yourself an out of the world experience at Rapids Camp in Sagana or Nile High Bungee in Jinja.
This post was earlier published in The East African Magazine May 1, 2017 Technology has made flying safer.