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Can’t accidents during air shows be prevented?

Can’t accidents during air shows be prevented?
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Even before the inauguration of the Aero India2019 in Bangalore, an inflight collision of two Hawk trainer jets occurred during the practice session...

Even before the inauguration of the Aero India-2019 in Bangalore, an in-flight collision of two Hawk trainer jets occurred during the practice session of the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) of the Indian Air Force on February 19. This accident has resulted in the death of one of the four Surya Kiran pilots.

Following this accident, another ill-fated episode has taken place at the same display ground — a fire accident occurred on February 23, in which many cars were gutted in the fire at the parking lot. The prima facie reports held that the nearby piled up desiccated grass caught fire, which spread in no time.

Coincidentally, on the same date in the year 2015 i.e. on February 19, 2015, during Aero India show only, two planes belonging to Flying Bulls stunt team made mid-air clash, resulting in the damage of one plane. Nonetheless, both planes landed safely, in spite of the damage of a wing of one of the aircraft.

In another catastrophic air show, while performing at the opening ceremony of the India Aviation Show at Hyderabad on March 3, 2010, a HAL Kiran aircraft belonging to the Sagar Pawan aerobatic team of the Indian Navy crashed. It caused the death of two Indian Navy pilots. It is worth mentioning here that Sagar Pawan is one of the only two naval aerobatic teams in the world which are into aerobatics — Blue Angels of the US Navy turns out to be another naval aerobatic team.

Going back in time, in one more fatal air show, two Indian Navy Ilyushin Il-38 (IN302 and IN304) aircraft hit mid-air while flying in formation on October 2, 2002, at Dabolim Naval Air Base in Goa. This happened during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the base and resulted in the death of all twelve occupants.

Irrefutably, there is a veiled danger associated with an air show. This fact could be better understood by considering the number of air crashes that took place around the world during this 21st century — so far, 126 air crashes occurred during the air shows since 2000. The first ever public international air show was held in Reims from August 22, 1909, to August 29, 1909. Starting with this, the air shows have been transformed into a variety of aerobatic demonstrations.

In general, an air show, which is also referred to as air fair or air tattoo, is a public event wherein aircraft are displayed. They often take account of aerobatic demonstrations. Of course, there are a number of air shows that take place only with aircraft parked on the ground, which is free from all sorts of aerobatic demonstrations — called static air shows.

There are numerous purposes behind conducting the air shows. They differ in their objectives — from a business venture to activity in support of local, national or military contributions. As far as military organisations are concerned, they often organise air shows at military air bases. They are held merely as an exercise of public relations, intended to show gratitude to the local community, apart from promoting military careers and raising the standards of the military.

Air shows, in general, are restricted by a number of factors that include weather conditions and visibility factors. As a matter of safety, most aviation authorities have set standard rules. Also, the guidelines on the minimum display heights and criteria for differing conditions have been formulated. Of course, the pilots and organisers have additionally been imposed restrictions on local airspace.

Even after taking adequate precautions, air shows may present some risk to spectators and aviators. The 1988 disaster that happened at Ramstein Air Base in Germany has led to 70 deaths while the 2002 air show crash at Sknyliv in Ukraine has resulted in 77 deaths. These are the accidents of high intensity with a large loss of life that ever happened in the history of international air shows.

Bowing to many accidents that are taking place during air shows, all aviation authorities around the world have set many rules and guidelines for those running and participating in air displays. For example, it is mandatory to uphold an adequate distance between display and spectators. Such rules govern the distance from the crowds that aircraft must fly. Despite many display rules and guidelines that are in force, accidents have continued to happen.

Unlike normal flying, the air shows involve flying with a precision. Timing is the crucial factor that governs the success of an air show — and for this to happen, so much of practice is required. Due to the increase in the number of accidents during air shows, organisations like the International Council of Air Shows must intensify deliberations to arrive at a concrete measure to prevent such accidents.

(The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass
media books)

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