Fly Montserrat's Woes


Rev Dr John Weekes

Release Date

Monday, October 22, 2012


Not surprisingly, many people who are regular passengers on Fly Montserrat, and those living abroad who have already booked tickets to fly from Antigua to Montserrat for the Christmas holidays are very worried because of the fatal accident on October 7 and followed just days afterwards by another, though minor, flying incident.

So we are apparently now at a stage where the aircrafts are grounded and some people I hear are asking for refunds. Speaking about refunds, I hardly think that, from a legal point of view (I am no lawyer mind you) that the airline at this stage at least would be compelled to make refunds as a temporary grounding would hardly be seen as grounds for vitiating or frustrating a contract to be formed in the future.

More to the point, however, and what should be of the utmost concern is the cause of the two most recent incidents in the first place. I was never a pilot; but I have spent 5 years in and around airplanes, pilots, mechanics, engineers and well over a hundred hours in the air over a period of 5 years. During that time I formed a settled opinion, based on those experiences, that airplanes properly serviced and maintained just do not fall out of the sky.

In my experience, aircrafts crash because of :
a) Poor maintenance,
b) Human error, including pilot's error,
c) Sabotage
d) Mechanical failure.

Like your car, aircrafts must be regularly serviced and maintained in order to avoid accidents. The big difference is the aircraft comes with a service manual and time table which must be strictly and rigidly followed. The trouble here is that often small and financially strapped airlines will defer and hold off maintenance schedules until it is too late. This needless to say would result in (d) mechanical failure, which, as was premised earlier rarely ever occur, and when it does may still be attributable to human error, which in turn would be negligence.

By contrast, the vast majority of air accidents are caused by human error, a combination of pilots, air traffic controllers and the like.

Since from about the mid to late sixties, another accident element, perhaps the most likely accident element, has been that of sabotage, the details of which we all know and about which most air travelers are most concerned. I have not added adverse weather conditions, because here again, with modern and advanced meteorological equipment and reports, bad weather conditions can be more often than not avoided. Yes a blinding snow storm can be hazardous for flying; but even the worst thunderstorm and lightening rarely affect the safety of an airplane.

Of course, in all of this we are talking specifically about a fifteen to twenty minutes flight which should be like a picnic in the park. If an aircraft takes off with its braking system in tact it remains in tact on landing. Leaks in the braking system do not spring up while the airplane is in the air, and certainly not half hour later. Neither does an engine which is working fine on take off suddenly stops working a few minutes later.

Let us look at this initial report that the fuel system was apparently corrupted or contaminated by water. We know that fuel and water do not mix. Fuel is not soluble and it is not porous. By soluble I mean it's not like salt or sugar in water. Both are said to be soluble. But it's not like water and alcohol which are porous, that is to say the molecules of both water and alcohol can occupy the same molecular space at the same time. If you pour water into a gas such as aviation fuel the water would sink to the bottom because of its greater density. So then if somehow water got into the gas line of that ill-fated plane, did the pilot test the engines before take off? If it was working fine, why did it suddenly moments later stop working? Surely with a full tank of gas and just some water, the gas being lighter would have been first sucked into the engine and if water started to intrude the engine would split and splutter, thereby giving the pilot a little more time to gain some height or do a circuit, feather the mal-functioning engine, and bring the plane in to land, bearing in mind that a half loaded plane of that type and size should have been able to fly all the way to Montserrat on a single engine.

I have said all of this to say, grounding the aircrafts for a time is not a bad thing. Something is wrong and we need to get to the bottom of it. The final report on the crash is not likely to be available before the Christmas season. So I say, let us be calm, let us have faith, and let us have confidence that if good will abounds, and the operators are on the up and up, whatever the cause of these mishaps can be determined and Fly Montserrat will continue to fly safely and proudly again.

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