New fears of flying after plane crash kills 157

Mayday: The pilots reported difficulties soon after take-off.

Should we be afraid of flying? It is one of the safest ways to get around — and yet two recent plane crashes have shaken people’s trust in air travel. What went wrong?

What’s happening

Last weekend, an ordinary flight took off from Ethiopia, heading for the capital city of Kenya. Three minutes later it had crashed. All 157 people on board were killed.

It was a tragic event, but sickeningly familiar. Five months ago, a similar plane crashed shortly after taking off in Indonesia.

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Both planes were the same model: a Boeing 737 Max 8. It was released less than two years ago, as a longer and more efficient version of a previous model.

It will be weeks before we know what went wrong, or whether the two crashes were related. In the meantime, 45 countries have taken the planes out of service. That is around two thirds of the world’s 737 Max 8s.

Planes these days are mostly automated, meaning that a computer does most of the flying. The 737 Max 8 has a new autopilot system. During the Indonesia crash, the pilots seemed to struggle to override its deadly instructions.

“Aeroplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” tweeted US President Donald Trump. “Often old and simpler is far better.”

Should we be afraid of flying?

Some say…

No. Trump is wrong about planes — they are safer now than ever. In the 1960s, fatal accidents happened once every 200,000 flights. Now, they happen less than once every two million flights. Despite these two crashes, you are far more likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a plane crash. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Others think…

The statistics do not matter — flying is scary! You are 10,000 metres above the ground, with no control over the vehicle you are in. If something went wrong, it would be very hard to escape. It is even scarier to think that a computer could make a mistake that cost the passengers their lives. Maybe we should stick to boats and trains in future…

You Decide

  1. What is your favourite way to travel?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were in charge of a country’s air travel. Decide whether you would stop 737 Max 8s from flying, and write a paragraph which explains your reasons why.

Some People Say...

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward.”

Leonardo da Vinci

What do you think?

Word Watch

Ethiopia
A country in north east Africa.
Tragic
Very sad.
Boeing
The largest aeroplane company in the world.
Efficient
Not wasting energy.
Automated
Controlled by a machine rather than a human.
Override
Reject a decision.
Fatal
Deadly.
Statistics
Facts based on numbers.

Subjects

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