USA Today ran Thomas Frank’s story on the unnecessary risks posed by post-crash aircraft fires. According to Frank’s article, small aircraft fires have killed at least 600 people since 1993, burning them alive or suffocating them after otherwise survivable accidents. Hundreds more have survived post crash fires but have been horribly burned.
I’ve written many times over the years that no one should be burned in an otherwise survivable aviation accident. The technology to prevent post crash fires has been around since the war in Vietnam.
The FAA has not required manufacturers to install such technology because it would be too costly – between $556 and $5,710 per aircraft. That doesn’t sound like much, but according to the FAA, it doesn’t pencil out when compared to the dollar value of the lives that would be saved. But the USA Today article points out that, in running the calculations, the FAA undervalued human life. For example, while the EPA used a value of $3.3 million per life when it justified regulation to protect the ozone, the FAA used a lower value — just $1 million per life — when it ran the numbers on post-crash fires. No wonder the costs didn’t pencil.
Of course, just because the FAA doesn’t require manufacturers to keep their aircraft safe from post-crash fires, it doesn’t mean that the manufacturers can’t do so on their own.
Today the manufacturers responded to the USA Today article, suggesting that it was inaccurate and one-sided.
GAMA’s Greg Bowles talked for more than three hours with Mr. Frank [the article’s author] about general aviation safety to include preventing post-crash fires through improved crashworthiness and manufacturers’ efforts to mitigate the effects of accidents for Mr. Frank’s previous series, “Unfit for Flight.” Unfortunately, Mr. Frank chose not to include the bulk of Mr. Bowles’ remarks that chronicled our industry’s successful efforts to continue to improve our safety record.
The GAMA response goes on to talk about all the things the manufacturers are doing to help prevent planes from crashing. It says nothing, however, about what it is doing to ensure that when they do inevitably crash, they don’t catch fire.