By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
planes such as the one that crashed this morning in Birmingham "have a
somewhat higher accident rate than passenger aircraft," aviation
consultant Hans Weber says.
"More recently, their accident rate
has significantly improved because they retired some older airplanes,
which were just more difficult to fly," Weber says.
He says the
air cargo industry also has "invested considerable amounts of money in
equipping their airplanes with improved navigation avionics, making it
safer for them to land under adverse weather conditions, and into
"The majority of the accidents were smaller
planes that had to fly into less well-equipped airports under adverse
weather conditions," he says.
Another aviation consultant, George
Hamlin of Fairfax, Va.-based Hamlin Transportation Consulting, says the
safety records of the major package shippers, UPS and FedEx, are
comparable to those of major passenger carriers American, Delta and
United. "If you're comparing UPS and FedEx, there is ostensibly no
difference, safety-wise," Hamlin says. "The accident rate tends to go up
when you get down to (cargo carriers) operating in obscure parts of the
The pilot and co-pilot of a UPS cargo plane died after
their Airbus A300 crashed as it was approaching Birmingham-Shuttlesworth
International Airport. The cause of the crash is unknown.
Birmingham crash was only the second fatal plane crash for UPS, which
has operated its own fleet since 1981. The first occurred on Sept. 3,
2010, when a UPS Boeing 747-400 crashed near Dubai in the United Arab
Emirates, killing both crewmembers. UPS has had four other aircraft
incidents since 1985, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
president and owner of San Diego-based Tecop International, an aviation
consultant company, says that the regulations governing cargo planes
are "basically the same" as those that apply to passenger aircraft.
"There are some differences," he says. For instance, the cabin
environment systems on cargo planes don't have to operate at the same
level as passenger aircraft, he mentioned.
"But as far as
certification of the aircraft, pilot training, navigation,
communications equipment - all of that is the same as for passenger
The UPS crash is the latest in a series of plane
accidents in recent weeks. On July 22, more than a dozen people were
injured when a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 jet skidded on its belly at
New York's LaGuardia airport after hitting the runway nose first before
breaking the front landing gear. On July 6, an Asiana Airlines Boeing
777 crashed while landing in San Francisco, killing three people and
injuring more than 180.
Weber and Hamlin say the recent spate of crashes doesn't tell them anything about current airline safety.
it says, I think, is that there is still some finite probability for an
accident, which will always be there, because nothing can be made 100%
safe. It's impossible," Weber says. "Also, the San Francisco accident
and the LaGuardia accident appear to have been due to pilot error."
cause of none of them is known," Hamlin says. "The first thing you look
for is, did they happen for similar reasons. All three were in the
landing mode, but by itself that doesn't tell us anything."
is a good time to take a good look. When you get a spate of incidents,
it's time to sit down and make sure you're doing everything in your job
to make sure there's not another one," Hamlin says. "The fact that we've
had another one is probably a good time to review procedures and rules.
Once we learn why they happened, that may point toward further changes
in procedures and training."
The National Transportation Safety
Board is still investigating the San Francisco and New York accidents,
but the agency hasn't yet determined the cause of either. The agency is
also investigating the UPS crash.