Why lost flight MH370 is such big news

ANTHONY DENNIS
Last updated 09:49 10/03/2014

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When a flight attendant utters the familiar phrase, ''in the unlikely event of an emergency'' in a pre-take-off airline safety demonstration passengers can be more certain than ever that it is not a platitude.

And while it will provide cold comfort to the loved ones of the passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the reality is that such events are increasingly and remarkably rare.

Just a few decades ago, such incidents, especially those not suspected of being caused by terrorists, would likely have registered considerably more muted international media attention. Airline crashes, after all, were simply too frequent.

But unquestionably, today's passengers enjoy far more reliable, better-engineered aircraft as well as vastly improved security and safety standards.

It is therefore all the more alarming when a respected airline such as Malaysia Airlines loses an aircraft in such mysterious circumstances.

Consider the fact that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) declared 2012 to be the safest year in the history of aviation. It had the lowest number of accidents involving Western-built jets.

IATA estimated that the accident rate (measured in ''hull'', or whole fuselage, losses per million flights) was equivalent to one accident every 5 million flights, a nearly 50 per cent improvement on 2011 when the accident rate was one for every 2.7 million flights.

In 2012, none of IATA's more than 240 members recorded hull losses of a Western-built jet.

Furthermore, it took just four years from the first commercial flight of a Boeing 747 for the aircraft to record its first disaster.

In contrast, the A380 superjumbo, which first flew commercially in 2007, is yet to suffer a fatal accident.

The most potentially dangerous event involving an A380 was that of Qantas Flight 32 in 2010 which landed in Singapore with no loss of life.

Yet it is not just safety standards that have changed. The composition of the passenger lists aboard many overseas flights are unrecognisable compared to a decade ago.

The majority of the passengers aboard the ill-fated Flight MH370 were Chinese nationals. Ten years ago that would not have been possible since only a tiny number of Chinese citizens were permitted to travel abroad.

Now tens of millions of Chinese have the financial ability and the acquiescence of their government to do so, and also run the statistical risk, albeit minute, of being involved in a misadventure like Flight MH370.

Nowadays, airlines and the loved ones of passengers involved in an accident must also contend with the vagaries of social media.

At the weekend, Twitter was alive with misguided theories offering false hopes about the fate of Flight MH370, with suggestions that the aircraft had variously landed at Nanning Wuxu International Airport in southern China and Nanjing Lukou International Airport.

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- FFX Aus

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