Most of us today have traveled in an aircraft. Well, even if some of us haven’t, we are still familiar with planes and the general concept of flying. There are many things that come to the mind when someone mentions flying. These may include exotic locations, pretty air hostesses, take offs, landings and so on. However, the morbid fascination that has always been a part of the human mind makes us think of one more thing – crashes.. Although a million measures are taken by manufacturers and operators alike to promote aircraft safety, a few crashes still happen. It is during these times that the most seemingly practical solution hits our minds – parachutes.
We all tend to
think that aviation would be a great deal safer if parachutes were installed in
passenger jets. This might sound like the most obvious solution to the problem
of life loss caused due to air crashes, but it is not. There is a lot of
impracticality and peril surrounding the idea of jumping out of an airplane with
a parachute. Let us see how:
For starters, there are tons of pressure on the door of a cruising aircraft and no human or even humans, for that matter, are capable of opening a door that heavy. The only way to bring down the pressure on the door is to descend below 10,000 feet and to depressurize the aircraft at that altitude. Simply put, the design and make of a commercial airliner is not cut out for quick and easy exits, especially at high altitudes and speeds. Today, a typical airliner cruises at an average speed of 500-600 knots which converts to around 1000 kilometers per hour. Such high exit speed can destroy the parachute, rendering it useless.
Also, a commercial
airliner usually cruises at an altitude of 35,000-40,000 feet. The temperature
at such an altitude may be -45 to -60 degrees Celsius. It goes without saying
that such low temperatures are not instrumental for human survival. Lack of
oxygen or hypoxia can be another problem as it may cause the jumping passenger to lose consciousness quickly at that height.
Given a parachute, most people wouldn't know how to jump, deploy or land safely. The only way to resolve this issue is to offer training courses to each and every person travelling on a plane. This can call for a lot of time, energy and resources and we all know how impractical it would be to go ahead with this idea. Also, let us not forget that there are people of all age groups on board an aircraft and jumping might not work out for everyone. Moreover, the turbulent condition around an aircraft may cause a person to collide with the frame of the aircraft or even get sucked into the engine.
Now comes the
question of time. The best time to jump off with a parachute is highly
debatable. What may seem like an emergency in the start may very well be resolved in a few moments and what may not be a pressing situation may turn into one within seconds. However, by the time an emergency situation is declared, there is no time left to perform an orderly parachute jump evacuation. Furthermore, no single person on board can be burdened with the responsibility of taking an evacuation call in mid flight, not even the pilot. In case of an emergency, a pilot’s foremost responsibility is to land the aircraft safely. This hardly leaves time for any other concern. Not only is the pilot responsible for the lives on board, he or she is also responsible for the lives of the people on the ground, below the aircraft.
“The optimist invented the airplane, the pessimist, the parachute.” – George Bernard Shaw
Statistically, air travel is the safest mode of travel today. Statistics also suggest that the maximum number of emergencies occur right after take-off and just before landing. So even if there is a situation where a parachute evacuation may seem fitting, there might be no time for it. Also, the deployment of parachutes needs sufficient height and planes are usually at low altitudes when most emergencies occur.
The most recent example of this is the 'Hudson River Ditching' that happened in New York in 2009. Just three minutes after takeoff, the Airbus 320 lost both its engines after critical bird hits and started losing height rapidly. 57 year old Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a commercial pilot with US Airways and also a former fighter pilot, had to make a split second decision at 3000 feet. The aircraft was skillfully and successfully ditched into the Hudson River, saving all 155 lives on board. As this emergency took place just three minutes into the flight and at a height of 3000 feet, there would not have been time to perform parachute evacuation, even if there were parachutes.
Big or small, an airline is a business. Installing parachutes for every passenger on board can be expensive and might not fit into the budget of more than a few companies. Besides, it can also result in a hike in ticket prices, thus disgruntling passengers and hurting business. Apart from the installation costs, the ongoing maintenance cost may also add up to the operational costs of the airline, making it difficult to manage business. Lastly, carrying parachutes means carrying extra weight. This means carrying less cargo or passengers in an attempt to keep the aircraft’s maximum take of weight within limits. This further affects the revenue generation of the airline.