- - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s Flyer I lifted off the ground at Kitty Hawk, N.C., for 12 seconds. Washington’s Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which houses the legendary aircraft, has depicted this historic moment as having “inaugurated the aerial age with their successful first flights of a heavier-than-air flying machine.”

The Wright brothers, whose fourth flight that day lasted an astonishing 59 seconds, would never have fathomed the airplane’s growth and development in more than a century. The recent slew of plane crashes would have mortified these great aviation pioneers, too.

It’s fair to say the airlines industry has just experienced one of its worst weeks in history. A total of 462 deaths occurred on three separate flights: 298 people on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, 48 on TransAsia Airways Flight GE222, and 116 on Air Algerie Flight AH5017.

While people still continue to board planes for vacations and business trips, the public’s reaction to these heart-wrenching crashes has been fairly predictable. Some individuals are hesitant to fly the friendly skies until further notice. A few are downright petrified.

Our society will gradually calm down about air travel once there has been a sizable break or lull in the number of air tragedies. Unfortunately, I think there will be some long-term effects from these three terrible incidents that will be permanently etched into our memory banks.

For example, Flight MH17 — which was shot down over eastern Ukraine — will likely change the way most people travel to war-torn countries and regions rife with military fire and internal political struggles.

How so? The vast majority won’t go near them. They may have family and friends who live in these unsafe countries and regions, but fewer and fewer individuals are going to risk life and limb for short visits. I don’t think most people would blame them, either.

Meanwhile, the casualties of this civil war have unfortunately become international. Flight MH17 was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it got caught in the crossfire of the Russia-Ukraine battle. Alas, it proves that no one is safe any longer — not even when it comes to air travel.

As for a country such as Malaysia, which has experienced two recent episodes of missing planes (Flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared on March 8, and still hasn’t been found), this could literally destroy its travel and tourism industry in a heartbeat.

Many countries will continue to work and trade with Malaysia, which currently has the third-largest market economy in Southeast Asia. Yet, after all this nation has been through this year with air travel, who in their right mind would regard it as a prime location for a vacation destination?

If nothing else, Malaysia Airlines — which has had its fair share of revenue problems over the years — should take a massive financial hit. Reuters noted in May that the company had already experienced a first-quarter net loss of 443.4 million ringgit ($137.4 million), as compared with a loss of 278.8 million ringgit in the previous year. When you combine the MH370 disappearance with the MH17 tragedy, it would be hard to believe that monetary losses in the second quarter won’t be even worse.

In terms of Flights GE222 and AH5017, these two crashes likely occurred owing to poor weather. The recovery of the respective black boxes will hopefully confirm this crucial fact in due course.

For argument’s sake, let’s say this does turn out to be the reason that both planes went down. These accidents would still make some people very nervous to fly to certain destinations.

It could mean there are certain lapses in airplane safety (i.e., weather in domestic and international locations) as well as airplane security (i.e., terrorism, ensuring that flights don’t travel over certain countries and areas). If we start to lose confidence in the airlines’ ability to determine proper weather conditions for takeoffs and the safest flight routes to avoid potential problems, this industry will be in huge trouble.

In fairness, 2014 may just turn out to be a bad year for air travel. Some years are certainly worse than others. This recent domino effect of large-scale plane accidents may, therefore, come to a screeching halt — and stories of Flights MH17, GE222 and AH5017 may be forgotten by the general public before long.

I’m sure that’s what the airline industry, and more than a few anxious families on summer vacation, are counting on.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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