How a crash landing became a story of survivability

Seats that don't come loose, 90 second evacuations, plastics that don't produce toxic fumes... Advances within the aviation industry have helped increase the odds of surviving crashes.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

The crash landing of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 in San Francisco killed two passengers on Saturday. Looking at the charred remains of Flight 214, officials were amazed that the toll wasn’t higher.

Thankfully, industry changes -- from advances in materials and crew training to lessons of past tragedies -- have dramatically increased the odds of surviving such an accident. Businessweek reports.

1. 16G Seats

Seats on modern planes are designed to bear greater impact and the braking effect from hitting the ground, withstanding extreme forces up to 16 times the pull of gravity. Also, connections between the floor and seats have been strengthened so that seats don’t come loose in a crash and cause more severe injuries.

2. Flame resistance

Plastics and fabrics, for things like seat cushions and carpets on airplanes, are specially engineered to retard flames and to not produce toxic fumes if they do encounter fire. Additionally, planes built after 1990 must meet standards on how much heat materials release in a fire and the density of smoke the fire produces.

Insulation blankets in aircraft walls should slow the spread of flames and, together with the jet’s skin, can provide at least four minutes for evacuation before a post-crash fire burns through.

3. Evacuation

Flight attendants are rigorously trained to evacuate airplanes within 90 seconds -- even when half the doors and escape slides are inoperative or unavailable. That gives passengers a fighting chance to flee before fire and smoke can engulf the body of the aircraft. (It appears that most passengers were off the Asiana airplane before flames consumed parts of the hull.)

4. Data

Each accident provides a grim, teachable lesson. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates major U.S. transport accidents, has become a vital source of research and analysis for the airline industry:

Much of the scientific rationale for such things as the weight of doors and width of exit rows has come from the agency’s research. The 46-year-old NTSB also serves as a prod for the Federal Aviation Administration -- and, indirectly, the airlines -- through its Most Wanted List. That compilation details changes the NTSB wants implemented to increase safety across the various industries it covers.

Data from Flight 214 too will be used to make future flights safer. Although, it’s not clear what exactly went wrong (despite how various people have been quick to blame). Investigators listening to voice recordings and conducting interviews with the pilots aboard the flight hope to shed some light this week.

[Via Bloomberg, Businessweek, WSJ]

Image: NTSB via Wikimedia

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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