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More aviation safety

The row with Ryanair reveals a lack of transparency and a need to review the rules regarding air travel

The fact that the shelving of the criminal proceedings regarding the Spanair accident in Barajas — which killed 154 people in 2008 — has coincided with a dispute between Spanish authorities and the low-cost airline Ryanair, has increased overall uncertainty over the state of aviation safety. This situation must be addressed at once.

In the case of the Spanair accident, the Provincial Court of Madrid has acquitted both mechanics who dealt with a minor breakdown before the fatal flight, and whose work did not play a role in the crash. The legal investigation established that the accident occurred through a combination of human error and technical failures. The pilots forgot to deploy the flaps of the aircraft, which provide lift on takeoff, and that mistake went by unnoticed because the alarm system failed.

Since there are no living persons left to charge with those failures, it remains to be seen why the alarm mechanism did not function and whether steps should be taken, since the same error has occurred before in that particular model of plane, resulting in another accident that also left 154 people dead.

As for the Ryanair issue, Irish authorities have certified that the airline meets all legal requirements in terms of the amount of fuel required for flying; but far from clearing up existing doubts, the report recommends reviewing those minimum amounts. This recommendation is aimed at Ryanair, which has repeatedly requested preferential or emergency landings in Spain due to insufficient fuel, but also at the Spanish airport authorities, since a few airports, like Barajas, suffer from frequent congestion.

Ryanair alleges that it is the target of a smear campaign for commercial reasons, and claims that its flights do not have more problems than any other companies. This might be so, but it is not readily apparent since that kind of information is confidential and only airlines have access to it. Passenger safety should be above economic interests and commercial warfare. Limits on fuel should be revised, and an independent, transparent system arbitrated to let citizens access each airline’s record when it comes to breakdowns and other incidents, which would stop some of them from engaging in risky behavior in order to save money.

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