Human factors emerge as trend in air crashes: expert

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:49pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Human factors are emerging as a worrisome trend in global air crashes and other incidents as fatigue, complex flight systems, inconsistent training and regulation pose new challenges to airlines, a leading safety advocate said on Tuesday.

Bill Voss, president of the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation, a watchdog and advocacy group, told industry and government officials that 2009 could be the worst year in a decade for major commercial aviation accidents.

There have been 12 crashes this year through June and carriers globally are on pace to equal the 10-year high of 24 crashes in 1999, according to safety foundation figures.

There were 16 crashes last year.

This year's total would include a Yemeni airliner with 153 people that plunged into the Indian Ocean on Tuesday and the Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil on June 1 that killed 228 passengers and crew.

Both crashes involved Airbus jetliners and are under investigation.

"We've seen an increase in loss of control," Voss said of reported in-flight mishaps linked to turbulence or other unexpected situations that usually do not result in crashes. "We're back in the human factors business."

Crews losing control of aircraft accounted for 13 percent of accidents internationally, according to 2008 figures compiled by the International Air Transport Association.

"Systems don't always act the way you expect them to," Voss said.

The ill-fated Air France flight, an Airbus A330, apparently hit severe turbulence before experiencing a rapid succession of technical problems and possibly breaking apart en route from Rio De Janeiro to Paris.

Voss said airlines and other aviation system operations are trying to quickly adapt to highly technical and automated aircraft and flight systems with varying resources, some of them inadequate.

For instance, roughly half of 190 regulatory agencies reviewed by the International Civil Aviation Organization had insufficient numbers of inspectors for safety oversight, Voss said.

Latin America, Africa, Russia and the former Soviet Republics pose the most concern for all types of severe accidents, Voss said.

Rapid industry expansion in the middle of the decade put financial pressure on countries trying to develop more robust aviation systems, he said. Available capital to maintain new planes, training and oversight has been a serious question in some developing countries.

(Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Chris Wilson)

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