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11 January 2020
On January 8th 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 from Tehran to Kiev was shot down shortly after takeoff due to what Iranian authorities attributed to a human error. Not only is this the deadliest aviation disaster in Iran since the 2003 Iran Ilyushin Il-76 crash, it was also the first fatal aviation incident for Ukraine International Airlines since it first started its operations in 1992.
While Iranians, Canadians and the entire world mourns the loss of the 176 passengers and crew, we sat down with our AviaPro commercial aviation experts Jorge Abando and Kevin Clarke to discuss key take-aways from the tragedy.
AP: How do you react to this incident?
JA: It's a tragic event no matter what was the cause, and first and foremost, we express our sympathies, in particular since there were many fellow Canadians on board.
KC: I’m surprised, because UIA is a safe airline, and I have flown with them before. But there have been several accidents in the region between Ukraine and Iran in recent years so it wasn’t a complete shock.
AP: As an aerospace professional, what are you taking away from this?
JA: When you put aside the cause of this tragedy, commercial aviation is still the safest and most efficient way to travel. If you look at the two Malaysian flights' tragedies, Sukoi's aircraft that crash-landed, or even the two B737Max aircraft incidents, I would argue that the industry didn’t see any drastic drops in airline bookings. Passengers will continue to book their commercial flights.
KC: First things first, this is a tragedy. People lost their lives and their families are mourning the loss. Beyond the human aspect, every accident is bad for our business, because it turns people off travel. What’s interesting about this crash in particular is that it was initially reported as a technical issue with the aircraft, but as the investigation developed it was reported instead that it was shot down by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles. So another takeaway is to be critical of early reports, to be patient, and to not jump to hasty conclusions.
AP: Could this type of event have ever been expected?
JA: I would say no. That’s because when it does happen, both the industry and public put so much effort into trying to find out what happened so that technical and regulatory safeguards can be put into place to prevent it from happening again.
KC: Well, in the 1980’s the Americans mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner full of innocent people, after having mistaken it for a hostile military aircraft. Perhaps another lesson is that even if the airlines think they are flying in a “safe” flight path, when travelling in a war zone or area that is experiencing political and military unrest, accidents like this can’t be completely ruled out.
AP: How does this fit in with the Boeing 737 Max’s that are grounded at the moment?
JA: No 737-800s have ever been grounded. ALL Max's have been grounded and remain grounded. Civil authorities around the globe have grounded the aircraft, which led Boeing to stop deliveries.
KC: Those incidents involving Boeing Max’s were due to technical issues and training issues. This latest tragedy is a case of mistaken identity and hostile military action. The Max program has a new engine versus the classic Boeing 737s, which weighs more and therefore required special avionics software to be developed by Boeing in order for the pilots to be able to maintain control of the aircraft and its new aerodynamic and weight & balance properties. Operating this new software requires training, and Boeing failed to train the new pilots adequately for them to know how to use the software properly. That’s why the 2 Max accidents happened. Technically, the Max is a better aircraft that has a lower maintenance cost and a lower fuel burn, as well as increased range over the classic B737s.
I don’t believe many B737-800s are grounded except for those belonging to Ukraine International Airlines. There are thousands of Maxs grounded, mostly at the Boeing factory in Washington State, USA. Their airworthiness certificates have been cancelled by the FAA, EASA, and all other civil aviation administration bodies worldwide.
AP: What are you looking out for going forward, and what would you recommend to your clients?
JA: The industry will follow both the regulators and Boeing's advice. I would consider waiting until then before making any big decisions.
KC: I still believe the Boeing 737 Classics are safe to operate. The Max’s will be safe in the future – but only after certification by the FAA and other aviation authorities. I would recommend Classics now and I would recommend Maxs once they are recertified.