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Many Pakistanis tempered this year's Eid greetings with words of condolence or prayers for the victims of coronavirus and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303.

The flight from Lahore crashed in a dense residential area adjacent to Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on May 22, killing all but two of the 99 people on board. Investigators have recovered the flight data recorder but the cause of the crash is yet to be determined.

The crash was a horrific tragedy at a time when the country is battling the mounting toll of the pandemic. But as with most things in Pakistan, it is also political.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Southwest Boeing 737 Max 8, the newest version of Boeing's most popular jetliner. Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If you’re an airline passenger, automation is your friend — setting aside the fears over its role in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes in the past five months. The gradual spread of automation through the civil aircraft fleet is a primary reason the accident rate worldwide has fallen from about four accidents per million flights in 1977 to less than 0.4 today. Many modern airliners are capable of taking off, flying and landing without any human assistance. Pilots today, as one former pilot puts it, are less stick-and-rudder movers than they are overseers of systems.

Automation is not without its own hazards, though.…  Seguir leyendo »

The wreckage of Flight 9268 is seen in this image provided on Tuesday, November 3.

It happens every time. An airplane crashes, hundreds are killed, and immediately, before any facts are apparent, everyone wants to pinpoint a cause. It's as though there is a giant void that must be filled, and if it can't be filled by facts, it's filled by theories. Which, of course, are just that -- theories.

It's no different with the crash of MetroJet Flight 9268 in the Egyptian desert. The Russian plane broke apart in midair, killing all 224 people on board. We've heard early speculation of a missile and a fuel tank explosion. There was talk of previous damage to the aircraft's structure from a tail strike.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's easy -- and perhaps tempting -- to try to draw parallels between the crash of the Germanwings Airline in the French Alps on Tuesday and previous tragedies like that of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed in December. After all, both incidents involved an Airbus A320. But as understandable as it is to try to draw lessons from earlier tragedies, it is also essential that we don't forget that no two accidents are ever exactly the same.

So what do we know about this specific incident? And what might have led to the obliteration of this plane, and the likely loss of all 150 people on board?…  Seguir leyendo »

News that debris was found after an Indonesia AirAsia flight went missing over the weekend marked the third major incident involving Southeast Asian airlines this year.

In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing after it mysteriously deviated from its scheduled flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane is believed to have been lost over the southern Indian Ocean near Australia, yet no wreckage has been found.

Then, in July, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine -- possibly by pro-Russian separatists, although Russia suggested that Ukraine was in some way responsible.

So, are passengers traveling in Southeast Asia rattled?…  Seguir leyendo »

The day Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, I was in Moscow, having dinner with a small group of friends. Three of those present were living in Moscow and the other three, including me, were former Muscovites visiting from the United States. Perhaps because most of the people at the table were linguists, discussion of the airplane soon turned to a conversation about words.

“Why do we have to say ‘our country”’ asked one of the linguists. “Why can’t we say ‘this country,’ like Americans do?”

It’s a language thing: When speaking of Russia, Russians indicate possession the way English-speakers do with most other nouns — “my hand,” “my drink” — but not, as it happens, with countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's been pretty gruesome for the airline industry in recent days.

First, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot over eastern Ukraine last week, killing all 298 people on board. Then, a TransAsia ATR-72 crashed near the small Taiwanese island of Penghu in heavy rains, claiming more than 40 lives. And on Thursday, an Air Algerie MD-83 with 116 on board crashed in Mali.

At tough times like this, it's worth reminding people that flying remains one of the safest modes of transportation on Earth, especially since airline accidents tend to become spectacular media events.

In the United States, there hasn't been a commercial airline fatality since the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in early 2009.…  Seguir leyendo »

On July 17, the world was dismayed by a terrible tragedy when civilian Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in an area controlled by pro-Russian militants.

It is clear to everyone now that that horrific act was perpetrated by terrorists who for months have been destabilizing the Ukrainian state, being trained, financed and armed by Russia. All reports point to the fatal shot having been launched from a Buk missile system that had been brought onto the territory of Ukraine from Russia a few days before the tragedy.

This appalling event would not have happened had Russia not launched its aggression against Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

After a harrowing delay, the first bodies from MH17 arrived back at their point of departure on Wednesday. The sendoff from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, had been dignified, in contrast to most of their treatment over the previous six days. There were decent coffins, a short military ceremony and soberly dressed officials with heads bowed. A measure of order had been restored.

These arrangements, it appears, were the result of highly complicated negotiations between many parties. There were representatives of Malaysia (because the plane was theirs); of the Netherlands (because this is where the plane had set off from, and the majority of the passengers were Dutch nationals); of the Ukrainian government (because the plane came down within its borders); of the anti-Kiev rebels (because they control the actual territory where the plane crashed); and of Russia (because it had some lines open to the rebels, if not as much real leverage as many still believe).…  Seguir leyendo »

In eastern Ukraine, Vladimir V. Putin has been playing with fire.

He has mobilized the worst elements to be found in the region.

He has taken thugs, thieves, rapists, ex-cons and vandals and turned them into a paramilitary force.

He has permitted ad hoc commanders of separatist groups to kill or chase off intellectuals, journalists and other moral authorities in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

He has watched as a vodka-soaked rabble army destroys or takes over public buildings, hospitals, schools and municipal offices of the country it is pretending to liberate.

He has allowed a veritable gang war to take hold — without caring that he is losing control of the forces that he has unleashed, with rival bands pitted against one another and carving out fiefs amid the growing anarchy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Less than two weeks ago, the Netherlands was still delirious with the fever surrounding the World Cup. The Dutch unexpectedly achieved third place. Dutch nationalism, usually muted, was briefly turned into mandatory enthusiasm, as the Dutch team racked up victories over Spain, Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and, finally, Brazil. On Twitter, a soccer commentator who ventured a few critical remarks about the Dutch team received comments to the effect that he should be thrown out of a plane.

Then, on Thursday, while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine. Of the 298 passengers and crew members who were killed, 193 were Dutch nationals, among them a famous AIDS researcher, Joep Lange, and a senator and legal scholar, Willem Witteveen.…  Seguir leyendo »

The tragic fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, believed shot down by a missile in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 on board, has cast a new light on the series of gambles Russian President Vladimir Putin embarked on in late February.

At that time, Putin sent military intelligence troops in unmarked uniforms to take control of the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Three weeks later, Russia annexed the region.

As Russian-speaking Ukrainians farther north in Donetsk and Luhansk stormed administrative buildings, demanding independence from Kiev, Russian intelligence officers started slipping across the border to help organize the militias. In subsequent months, Moscow supplied the separatist guerrillas with artillery, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons.…  Seguir leyendo »

A part of the wreckage of flight MH17. 'New sanctions against Russia are just a matter of time.' Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Until Thursday, the world was ready to let Ukraine fail: hollowed out by corruption, dismembered by Russia, given up on by western countries. The downing of flight MH17 has changed that.

Visitors can be forgiven for not realising quite how wrecked Ukraine is. Kiev has all the car showrooms, restaurants and elegant architecture of a European capital, but last year Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index rated Ukraine 144th in the world, level with the Central African Republic.

Ukraine’s orgy of kleptocracy reached its riotous peak under Viktor Yanukovych, leaving the country incapable of defending itself, or even of holding itself together.…  Seguir leyendo »

Almost as soon as the news broke about the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine on Thursday, in which all 298 passengers and crew members were killed, people began to ask: What was a commercial aircraft doing over a conflict zone in the first place? Was this disaster somehow the airline’s fault?

The answer is no — but to understand why, you have to look at the complex realities of modern commercial aviation.

Malaysia Airlines, already world famous because of the still-missing flight MH370, appears to have been following all normal safety rules. And the rules governing airline flights over danger zones, including Ukraine, reflect the balance between the risks inherent in any flight and the efficiency on which the world airline system depends.…  Seguir leyendo »

The burnt-out wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Dzhavakhadze Zurab/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

Within hours, even minutes, of the Ukraine air disaster, there was only one culprit in the eyes of much of the world. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was already in the dock.

Russia, it was assumed, had supplied the murderous weapon system to anti-Kiev fighters, in a move not just belligerent but reckless (because the recipients were unlikely to have the necessary expertise). The Kremlin, it was also assumed, pulled the rebels’ strings, ordering them to advance or retreat as suited its purpose. So, whoever pressed the button to launch the missile, the buck stopped with Moscow.

There are reasons to question both these assumptions.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today, we are all mourning the loss of 298 people who died in the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Ukraine and Russia have been trading blame on who is responsible for shooting down the aircraft. As more details come in, U.S. officials believe that pro-Russian rebels fired the missiles.

Whatever the political repercussions are, the international community owes it to the deceased and their families to conduct an immediate, thorough, competent and, most important, independent investigation of what exactly happened and who is responsible.

We cannot afford to have another aviation accident investigation that appears to stumble at its outset.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the last few days, two Ukrainian warplanes were brought down over Eastern Ukraine (one allegedly by a Russian jet) and on Thursday a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed in the area, apparently with the loss of all 298 souls on board. If it turns out that the unfortunate civilian airliner was also shot down, Russia and its local allies could again be implicated. Understandably, the international community will wonder whether this portends an escalation in the Kremlin ambitions there.

Vice President Joe Biden is already sure he knows what happened, telling an audience in Detroit on Thursday that the plane has "been shot down, not an accident.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is still much that is mysterious about the fate of Malaysia Air Flight 370, but there is emerging consensus that the passenger jet bound for Beijing changed course, flying west over the Indian Ocean and flew for at least four hours. This tends to suggest that there was a human intervention, rather than a mechanical failure.

Typically such a human intervention would be a hijacking for political purposes, as was the case with the 9/11 flights or any number of other hijackings.

But no credible terrorist group has asserted responsibility for this operation and whoever diverted Malaysia Air Flight 370 issued no demands, which would be typical in the case of most hijackings.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sometimes, the crash site is never found.

In 1972 a Pan Alaska Airways flight with one pilot and three passengers took off from Anchorage bound for Juneau, planning to fly the route under visual flight rules despite bad weather conditions. After one last contact with air traffic controllers, the Cessna was on its way. The plane never reached Juneau. The flight had two congressmen on board -- Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Nicholas Begich of Alaska.

The search for the missing aircraft was intense, encompassing 325,000 square miles of land and sea, with 3,600 flight hours used to look for the wreckage.…  Seguir leyendo »

The lack of definitive information about the fate of Malaysia Flight 370 has baffled and riveted expert and average person alike. Even the promise of Chinese satellite images capturing the location of crash debris turned out to be false, as Malaysian authorities said a search of the area found nothing.

Amid the muddle of speculation, possibilities and blind alleys, are there logical explanations in this mysterious disappearance? The short answer is yes. But what, of what we know so far, makes sense exactly?

First, the focus on the airplane's transponders, the device that transmits a discreet signal to Air Traffic Control (ATC) radars, might be misguided.…  Seguir leyendo »