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2009: One of the worst for air travel
by Asa Butcher
2010-01-28 07:06:58
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When I read on the BBC website that airlines had suffered their 'worst year' in 2009, my mind immediately thought of all the disasters and strikes the industry had faced, but upon further reading this wasn't the point they had been making at all. Instead, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), 2009 saw the biggest decline in air passenger traffic in the post-war era, with passenger traffic dropping by 3.5% from a year earlier, while freight traffic fell 10.1% as the downturn hit demand.

As I said, when you think of a worst year for air travel you don't usually think of passenger numbers, especially after the nightmare year aircraft faced last year. Looking back over the past twelve months seems to suggest that aircraft were dropping out of the sky like bird faeces. If you are travelling by air in the near future or have a fear of flying then I suggest you click the Back button and read another article…

Granted, the year began rather upbeat with a Swedish charter aircraft becoming the first European commercial flight to land at Baghdad International Airport since 1990 and the amazing ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 into New York City's Hudson River without any loss of life left us all feeling slightly more optimistic about air travel but then events started to crash down around our ears. January ended with Boeing announcing the loss of 10,000 jobs and then six people were killed when a Piper PA-34 Seneca crashed in West Virginia, USA.

Total fatalities: 6

February began on a bright note as Japan Airlines conducted the first successful test flight of a Boeing 747-300 partly powered by biofuel, but the crash of an Embraer 110P1 air taxi in Brazil left 24 dead and the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in New York also killed 50 set the sad benchmark for the second month. British Airways CityFlyer Flight 8456 crash-landed at London's City Airport, a Eurocopter Super Puma ditched into the North Sea, a Northwest Airlines flight from the Philippines to Japan experienced severe turbulence and Carpatair Flight 128 made an emergency landing at Traian Vuia International Airport without its forward landing gear, but thankfully all of these had no fatalities. However, Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 crashed at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport killing nine people and injuring 84.

Total fatalities: 89

March began with an Ilyushin Il-76 crashing into Lake Victoria, Uganda, after take-off killing all 11 passengers, followed by Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 ditching into the Atlantic Ocean near St. John's, Canada killing all 17 on board. Emirates Airline Flight EK407 made an emergency landing in Australia after enduring a tailstrike during takeoff from Melbourne Airport, but didn't suffer any fatalities, unlike the Pilatus PC-12 that crashed in Montana, killing 17 people. A FedEx Express Flight crashed, killing both pilots, as did a U.S.A.F. F-22 Raptor and a helicopter accident in Turkey killed six. One other air event in March consisted of debris from an Arrow Air McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airplane dropping upon a village in Brazil, but nobody was hit.

Total fatalities: 143

April, it seems, was a reasonably safe month for flying unless you happened to be on a flight inside Indonesia, with two separate crashes claiming a total of 35 lives. Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace announced it would cut 3,000 jobs, while CanJet Flight 918 became the first incidence of a hijacking originating on Jamaican soil resulting in the hijacker's surrender and release of his six hostages.

Total fatalities: 178

May was another bad month for Indonesia with an Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft crashing in Java, killing 98 people, while South America saw an army helicopter crash in Venezuela, killing 18 people, and a King Air 350 crashing in Brazil, killing 14. On a brighter note, four men were arrested for planning to bomb two synagogues and destroy military aircraft in the USA and a bomb is discovered and defused aboard a Kish Air flight between Ahvaz and Tehran, Iran.

Total fatalities: 308

June was, perhaps, the worst month of the year for air travel. It began on June 1st with the crash of Air France Flight 447 into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 228, and ended on June 30th with Yemenia Flight 626 crashing en route to Comoros, killing all but one of the 153 on board. Continental Flight 61 landed safely at Newark Liberty International Airport after the 61 year-old pilot died mid-flight, but sadly seven people are killed in a helicopter crash in France. It was a bad month for Boeing, who first had to delay the first test flight of its lightweight jet and then had Qantas Airways cancel half of a 30-plan order that could amount to a $3.1 billion hit for the company.

Total fatalities: 695

July began badly for the military with an RAF Tornado F3 jet killing both crew members after crashing into a hillside in Argyll and then a Mikoyan MiG-29 of the Serbian military crashed and killed the pilot and one soldier on the ground. Iran looked to replace Indonesia as an unlucky place to fly with Caspian Airlines Flight 7908 killing 168 people shortly after take-off and then Aria Air Flight 1525 crashed in Mashhad, Iran, killing 16 of the 153 people on board. British Airways also announced a loss of £148m, which was the company's first loss since privatisation in 1987.

Total fatalities: 883

Small planes didn't have a great time throughout August: Indonesia, again, lost Merpati Nusantara Airlines Flight 9760 and its 16 passengers, a passenger plane carrying 13 people crashed over Papua New Guinea, a small plane and a tour helicopter collide over the Hudson River killing nine and a pilot flying from England to Ireland is airlifted to safety after his two-man aircraft crashed into the Irish Sea. Continental Airlines Flight 128, from Rio de Janeiro to Houston, makes an emergency landing in Miami after severe turbulence, eight people are injured when an Airbus A320 plane catches fire and a Kam Air plane in China is diverted after an alleged bomb threat. The month ended with two Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets collide during a training flight outheast of Moscow, killing the commander, and the controversial release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

Total fatalities: 922

Iran, surprisingly, sees a mid-air collision destroy their only AWACS equipped aircraft and kill seven, while a helicopter carrying five people crashes in southern India, leaving no survivors. Aeroméxico Flight 576 is hijacked after take-off from Cancún, Air India Flight 829 suffered an engine fire during pushback at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and a South African plane crash all ended with no fatalities.

Total fatalities: 934

Despite the crash of Azza Transport Flight 2241 in the United Arab Emirates that killed all six crew, October was one of the best months of the year for safe travel. Luis Armando Pena Soltren, a suspect wanted for the 1968 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 281, was captured after more than 40 years and native tribesmen in the Amazon Rainforest discovered a downed Brazilian military transport plane finding nine survivors. However, despite all this airline pilots in Europe still staged demonstrations in several cities against working hours - strange, I would have thought safety would be the issue after the events in the preceding months. An honourable mention goes to the two pilots of a Northwest Airlines flight who were apparently so distracted that they missed their airport and kept flying for 150 miles before landing the plane and its 147 passengers safely.

Total fatalities: 938

Commercially, November was the safest month of the year with just one civilian incident involving the deaths of four people in a helicopter crash off the coast of Israel, while for the military only 11 people died due to the crash of a Russian military plane into the sea in the Tatar Strait. However, a pilots’ strike in Finland forced the cancellation of hundreds of Finnair flights. Of course, let's not forget the pilot who was arrested moments before taking off from Heathrow and charged with being drunk.

Total fatalities: 953

What a month! Not a single fatality concerning air travel, although the festive month was marred by the threat of strike action by British Airways' cabin crew and actually taken by ground staff and baggage handlers at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, plus the arrival of heavy snowfall across Europe closed many airports and disrupted the Christmas travel plans of thousands. American Airlines Flight 331 did overshoot the runway in Jamaica and American officials investigated an attempted terrorist attack after an incident on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. However, all was well, even for Boeing whose 787 'Dreamliner' widebody passenger airliner took its maiden flight.

Total fatalities: 953

For Iata to announce that 2009 was the 'worst year' for airlines because of economics and fail to acknowledge a single passenger fatality of injury is sickening. According to my research, 953 people died last year while undertaking air travel in one form or another and if you were to ask their family and friends why 2009 was a bad year for air travel, then I expect the last words out of their mouths would be euros, dollars or pounds.

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ap2010-01-28 19:00:39
what a (dark) record.

Asa2010-01-28 20:20:47
Indeed. Be thankful I didn't cover maritime disasters last year too...

ap2010-01-29 00:36:23
Yet to sink in.

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