A Quick Word on the Spanair Crash

One quick note on the tragic Spanair crash yesterday that killed more than 150 people.  As is the norm when a plane crashes, early news stories speculate about the cause of the crash and the age of the aircraft.  Unless two planes collide, early speculation is nearly always wrong.  Eyewitness reports are notoriously inaccurate, often suggesting an engine was on fire when it was not.  It will take a while to find out what happened, though since the black box has been recovered investigators should have the data they need.

Even more egregious is when stories suggest that a plane has gone down because of its age.  Planes do not crash because they are old (repeat that 3 times).  Your 1977 Honda Civic doesn’t break down because it is old; it breaks down because a part was not maintained correctly.  Airplanes throughout the world (even in countries you know little about) are meticulously maintained.  Yes, the European Union has produced a list of blacklisted airlines that are supposedly unsafe (though even those are far more safe than driving between the cities they fly.)  I cannot think of a single crash that was caused by the age of the plane – so ignore those reports when you read about them.

Salon’s Ask the Pilot column has spent quite a bit of space discussing poor aviation reporting, so I don’t need to re-hash, but when there’s an incident like the one yesterday, it’s best to remember that it’s just going to take a while to find out what happened.


  1. Yes, I agree and a key point.

    Especially in the world of 24 hour news, there is a need to fill space and time and so many “experts” appear so soon after an accident such as this and speculate.

    I seem to recall reading that the main cause of air accidents over time is human error.

  2. Alan Jansen-Lage

    I agree with you in many ways, however aircraft do have a life limited usage, hence the reason why they are scrapped or stored for parts mainly in the desert in the US! One plane nearly came down due to an issue related to age but managed to land safely without the top part of the fuselage, this was entirely due to stress of the fuselage an age related issue and that was Hawaian Aloha Airlines!
    All of the above depends on the usage of the aircraft number of hours flown and maintainance this will determine how quickly an aircraft ages, pressurization plays a big part in aircraft fuselage strees so yes they do age and there are limitations in terms of age! Whenever an accident occurs there will always be speculation it is part of the human nature to search for explanations even if not rational in essence! However the best is to wait for the civil aviation’s authority to present their findings, only they will have the knowledge and expertise to do so! This accident like many other one’s will most likely be a combination of events and not just one alone!