5 Emerging Safety Issues for Airlines


Ross Faith

November 30, 2015

  1. Drones - The FAA notes that there have been hundreds of near-collisions between drones and aircraft. Drones are now able to fly at altitudes 5,000 feet above, are difficult to difficult on radar, and owners are not required to register them. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says it is “only a matter of time” before a drone crashes into a passenger aircraft.
  2. Laser pointers - Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime, but the number of “laser attacks” is on the rise, with one federal air marshal calling the laser pointer problem an “epidemic.” Laser pointers can cause temporary blindness and seriously impair a pilot’s ability to fly safely.
  3. Terrorism and International Conflict - With the downing of MH Flight 17 of Ukraine and the recent suspected bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt has reignited concern over terrorist attacks against commercial airlines. The US State Department recently issued a worldwide travel warning, indicating a heightened risk of terror attacks by ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, or individuals acting alone to bring down commercial planes.
  4. Pilot Fatigue - Mental illness in the cockpit became a top issue with the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash by a suicidal pilot, Andreas Lubitz. However, pilots have been concerned with another health issue for years: flying too long without rest. Pilot fatigue was cited as the cause of a Colgan Air crash over Buffalo in 2009, which led to new rules requiring commercial airline pilots to have a minimum of 10 hours of rest between shifts.
  5. Lithium battery fires - Lithium battery technology has is a much more powerful and efficient portable power technology than its predecessors and has unleashed a wave of innovation in the personal electronic, automotive, and aviation industries. However, the chemistry of these batteries is volatile, resulting in highly dangerous and explosive fire threats that cannot be adequately addressed with current firefighting procedures and agents. The FAA, United Nations, and other industry groups have recommended restrictions in cargo transport and the FAA now recommends that carriers instruct passengers to remove all spare batteries from their carry-on luggage. The Royal Aeronautical Society’s 2013 report on fire in aircraft recommends that operators, “Identify alternative extinguishing agents and procedures for use in in-flight fires involving lithium batteries. The unique properties of lithium battery fires require specialized extinguishing agents and procedures.