Egyptian Crash Spotlights Air-Charter Safety Record ; Searchers Located a Flash Jet Data Recorder Tuesday, but It Was Too Deep in the Red Sea to Be Immediately Retrieved

By Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

Egyptian Crash Spotlights Air-Charter Safety Record ; Searchers Located a Flash Jet Data Recorder Tuesday, but It Was Too Deep in the Red Sea to Be Immediately Retrieved


Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A row has broken out over the safety record of the Egyptian airliner that crashed near Sharm el-Sheikh Saturday, killing all 148 people aboard, in the wake of revelations that the plane had been banned from landing in Switzerland for safety reasons.

French officials are insisting they did not ignore a Swiss warning in October 2002 about aircraft operated by the Egyptian company Flash Airlines, and that three subsequent checks of the planes at French airports gave them a clean bill of health.

Of the victims of the Boeing 737 crash on Saturday, 133 were French tourists, returning from a New Year's holiday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort.

As accusations of negligence flew, airline-industry analysts pointed out that air travel is actually getting safer. Last year was one of the least deadly years in modern aviation history, with 1,204 people dying in 161 accidents, according to the Bureau of Aviation Accident Archives, a private research group in Switzerland.

"The trend is going down," says Ronan Hubert, who founded the organization. "Safety is improving, there are more and more inspections, aircraft are younger than they used to be, and pilots are better trained."

In the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh, French Navy searchers have located one of the jet's two "black box" flight recorders, which contain clues about the reason for Saturday's crash. But Rear Adm. Jacques Mazars told reporters that more advanced equipment must be brought in to retrieve the box, which was believed to be 1,970 to 2,620 feet below the sea's surface.

The worst crash in French history has focused attention on the low-cost charter airlines that fly millions of European holidaymakers every year to destinations all over the world.

Tour operators say that the charter companies save money, enabling them to offer the lowest fares in the sky, by filling their planes, not by cutting safety corners. Their aircraft "are subject to the same international regulations, and to the same sort of surprise inspections, as airplanes owned by regular carriers," points out Mr. Hubert.

At the same time, planes owned by charter companies do crash much more often than those operated by standard airlines, relative to the number of miles they fly. …

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