So I fly a lot — like 52 return flights a year — and I am still amazed at how it’s even possible. How does a lump of metal weighing anything from 100 to 450 tons defy gravity and leave the surface of the earth? Those Wright brothers must have had a massive set.
Talk about a dramatic learning curve: you know that if it doesn’t work, it’s going to really hurt — but what if it does work? There was just no easy way to test the theory of flight, yet here we are today, thanks to their pioneering spirit and never-say-die attitude.
The Miracle of flight is now as natural a thing as driving in a car. It’s actually an interesting comparison between cars and planes. There are about 700 000 passengers in the sky at any given time, and statistically you have a one in 20 million chance of being killed on a single airline flight. But it’s those odds that make you appreciate just how incredibly safe flying is.
Even with the horror year that 2014 was for commercial aviation, the total fatalities were fewer than 1 000. Compare that with the estimated 1.2 million road fatalities last year, and it makes you wonder why people fear flying — not driving! I guess it’s a fear of the unknown: because most of us know how to drive and we are in control, what is there to be afraid of?
It probably also doesn’t help that when things do go wrong in flight, the chances of survival are pretty slim and many lives are lost, so it’s headline news around the world. Can you imagine if every road accident fatality was reported on? So why is flight, which by its very nature is clearly way more complicated than driving, so much safer?
For one thing, the entry requirements for pilots are stringent, and the training exhaustive. If only the same were true for drivers’ licences… But there is a lot we can learn from aviation if we want to improve the level of driver we are sending out on the roads. The most obvious would be the use of simulators in driver training.
Think about the first time you got behind the wheel of a car — where did that happen? On a public road with other road users! It’s insane! Not only are you trying to figure out the mechanics of driving the car, you have to try and apply the rules of the road that you learnt from a book and passed in a multiple-choice learner’s test. Can you imagine if that’s how pilots learnt to fly?
This is why pilots spend hours on simulators, familiarising themselves with equipment and operation, recreating scenarios and generally clocking up the hours before taking to the air . . . so why not motorists? Granted, flight simulators are incredibly expensive, but recreating motoring scenarios is not nearly as complicated.
Nowadays, Formula One teams rely heavily on simulators in an effort to cut costs and teach drivers new circuits. The technology is clearly there. For me, passing a learner’s test should include a certain number of scenarios on a simulator to prove that you can operate a car and apply the rules of the road.
Manufacturers are spending billions creating safer cars — so surely investing in improving the drivers makes sense? But no, the most antiquated thing about cars at the moment are their drivers. It’s no wonder more people die in road accidents than in wars. Time for a system upgrade.
-Roberts is the anchor of the show IGNITION GT, DStv channel 189.