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Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

Work remains to be done

Four years after the Spanair accident, air safety in Spain still has room for improvement

This Monday was the fourth anniversary of the worst air tragedy to have occurred in Spain in recent decades, the crash of Spanair flight JK-5022. The plane failed just after takeoff, resulting in 154 deaths with 18 survivors. The judicial investigation has concluded its preliminary phase, but two of the parties involved — the associations that represent the victims and the pilots — are far from satisfied with the results.

The Provincial High Court of Madrid is to decide in the next few days whether to maintain the charges against two mechanics working for Spanair, or to shelve the criminal proceedings and leave the matter of damage compensation to the area of civil law.

The technical reports show that the accident had a direct and principal cause: the pilots forgot to activate the system of ailerons (flaps and slats) which enable the aircraft to rise on takeoff. The persons responsible for this error died in the accident and criminal charges cannot be laid against them. The judicial battle is now centered on whether some of the other anomalous factors might have been decisive in causing the accident, and whether there exist concrete persons to whom responsibility can be attributed.

This is the case of the two mechanics who intervened just prior to the accident, at the request of the pilots, to solve a technical problem distinct from that which later caused the accident. Spanair’s lawyers allege that, if the malfunction had been repaired, the plane would have crashed anyway, given that what determined the plane’s failure was the forgetful omission of the pilots. Another factor calling for clarification is the failure of the alert mechanism that ought to have warned of human error, which suggests a deficiency in the design of the aircraft.

Aside from establishing any possible criminal responsibilities, what matters most in a tragedy of this sort is learning the lessons necessary to prevent a repetition. And from this point of view, much remains to be done. In 1987, in Detroit, a similar accident took place in which a plane of the same model crashed due to the same cause; in that case, too, the warning system failed — something which has repeatedly happened in other accidents with the same type of plane, the Boeing MD-80. The American airport authorities recommended changes in safety protocols. Also noted was the desirability of revising the plane’s design to introduce a second warning mechanism, but Boeing ignored this recommendation. At this time, more than a thousand MD-80s are operating throughout the world.

An audit carried out in 2010 revealed that Spanish air safety has some room for improvement. On Monday, Public Works Minister Ana Pastor admitted shortcomings in the first aid given to the victims, and announced changes to the composition of the commission which investigates air accidents. We can only hope that these changes will lead to greater diligence than has been displayed so far.

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