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The Technology That Stops Jetliners from Crashing Into Mountains


Plane crashes. No one wants to think about them. But so far this year there have been roughly 15 aviation accidents around the world. A variety of factors contributed to these accidents - engine failure, runway incursions, weather-related issues, hijackers, and navigational-related issues. In a few, the primary cause remains unknown.

From pilot error to bad weather...

Some aviation accidents come from poor approaches and/or landings - which brings the issue of pilot error front and center - including the recent crash of a Boeing 737 from Hungary in August where the two-person crew on a cargo plane overshot the runway, but managed to escape uninjured.

In April, a Boeing 737-800 crashed into a smaller ATR 42 on the runway at Halim Perdanakusma Airport in Jakarta. Another runway related crash in New Guinea killed all 12 people aboard a Britten-Norman Islander. (These types of incidents are known in the aviation industry as "runway incursions.")

In at least two crashes this year, weather was a direct cause. On Feb. 24, a DHC-6 Twin Otter built by Viking Air crashed into a mountainside in Nepal, resulting in the deaths of all 23 passengers and crew. On March 19, poor weather resulted in the crash of a 737-800 that went down in Russia, killing all 62 people on board.

In some cases, planes simply have behaved strangely before going down.

On May 19, an EgyptAir flight crashed into the East Mediterranean Sea; prior to impact, the plane made a series of sharp turns. It's assumed that none of the 56 passengers or 10 crew members survived the crash.

Not all doom and gloom...

Though 2016 has seen its share of aviation disasters, it's worth noting that flying remains a relatively safe way to travel, and that aviation safety in general has drastically improved over many decades of flight.

Navigational-related crashes, for example, used to be a big problem. In the 60s and 70s, a jetliner would crash into the sea or mountains roughly once per month. Today, this just doesn't happen, at least in commercial aviation in the U.S., owing to technology developed by Honeywell engineer Don Bateman.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Bateman began working on an "Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System." This system helps pilots anticipate and avoid terrain, even in poor visibility. The system is now required on U.S. passenger planes and has largely eliminated (if not entirely) these types of jetliner crashes in the States.

Largely due to Bateman's work, U.S. commercial air travel is today among the safest forms of transportation.

To learn more about Bateman and his invaluable contribution to aviation and aviation safety, read Bloomberg's article. Bateman reportedly retires this year. 

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