Despite the bad publicity commercial airlines have received lately, flying has been relatively safe for passengers in the United States. Fortune stated that for the last nine years, 100 million U.S. operated flights, carrying billions of people, have landed without a passenger death from an accident. That was a record for the modern aviation industry. However, the streak was broken in April when an engine on a Southwest Airlines flight exploded, throwing shrapnel that killed a passenger.
For Southwest, the accident was the first ever in-flight death in its history. Accidents like these have become so rare due to restrictions, oversight, and commitment to increased safety procedures.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates and determines the possible causes of accidents that occur in the United States’ transportation systems. This includes investigations into airline accidents. Since the NTSB’s only concern is safety, the organization prides itself on its independence and ability fully explore safety concerns. The agency then provides safety recommendations based on its findings.
When a fatal crash occurred in Buffalo, NY in 2009, the NTSB determined the crash was due to a pilot overreacting to a cockpit warning. The discovery caused improvements in pilot training.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also examines ways to improve safety in aviation. It is the FAA that creates regulations for commercial flights and works to develop new civil aeronautics technology.
The cause of the engine malfunction on the Southwest flight has yet to be determined, though the aircraft had undergone maintenance just two days before. The engine is one of the most common jet engines in the world, a model known as the CFM56. It powers Boeing 737s.
As with other airplane accidents, the NTSB and the FAA will conduct investigations into what caused the engine malfunction on the flight. The Southwest CEO vows that once cause is determined, the company will work with the NTSB to make any needed changes in safety protocol to prevent future tragedies.