Learning lessons from the past
More than 80 passengers from the Asiana Airlines flight that crash-landed July 6 at San Francisco International Airport have sued Boeing, the airplane manufacturer. They claim that there was a problem with the aircraft's auto throttle, though investigators have not determined that.
The remarkable thing is that those folks are alive to seek damages. Given the violence of the crash, it is amazing that only three of 307 passengers and crew died. Another 180 were injured, several seriously.
That low death toll is due to more than luck. The deaths were the first three ever resulting from the crash of a Boeing 777, a twin-engine, wide-body, long-haul aircraft that is one of the safest in the history of commercial aviation.
The plane that crashed had its maiden flight in 2006, so it had safety features that have been developed as a result of lessons learned from analysis of other crashes over many decades.
Perhaps the most important safety feature on the plane was seating designed to withstand an impact of 16 times the force of gravity. The cabin probably sustained forces approaching that as the craft nearly cart-wheeled after its tail struck a sea wall at the end of the runway. Others include emergency lighting built into floors, escape chutes and fire-retardant materials..
More safety improvements likely will result from the investigation. For example, many passengers sustained abdominal injuries due to the force of seat belts that helped to save their lives. That likely will lead to new research and design for those restraints.
Safety improvements are due to engineering prowess but also to regulation that makes the improvements mandatory for planes serving U.S. airports.
Whatever the cause the of the crash, the silver lining of the incident is that, due to the meticulous work of the National Transportation Board and the ingenuity of design engineers, it will contribute to safer air travel in the future.