A major element of the WOASE event that is given extensive coverage in this edition of Airport Focus is safety. There are clear hazards taking off and landing when snow and ice are factored in but thankfully accidents are rare.

That is not to say they never happen and complacency should be recognised as the enemy of safe airport operations everywhere. Last month, a plane with 129 passengers and crew on board slid off a runway while landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport where there had been heavy snowfall. The runway had been ploughed minutes before the landing.

The flight from Atlanta came to a rest against a fence that borders a stretch of water. There were a small number of non-life threatening injuries suffered by passengers but it was a nasty near-miss.

As highlighted in these columns before, the safety of commercial aviation is more than just the first item on the list of priorities. It runs much deeper than that and any catastrophic failure has the potential to severely damage confidence in a global business.

The safety record of commercial aviation remains extremely high but two recent events have forced everyone involved to “think the unthinkable.”

The first was the shooting down of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed when the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

The latest incident that has shocked the world involves the apparent deliberate crashing of a commercial airliner into the side of a French mountain. A major inquiry is underway and there have been leaked reports about the mental health of the man who was in control of the aircraft when it crashed. But it appears to be an inarguable fact that the death of all 150 on board was not due to an accident or technical malfunction but a deliberate act by a member of the crew.

That is shocking on any number of levels. Pilots and co-pilots have the same status as surgeons, police officers, some scientists and technical experts. That is because others, quite literally and willingly, put their lives in their hands.

But because of the status, length of training and extremely high skill levels of these individuals, it is easy to forget that they are human beings. They are fallible and subject to personal and commercial pressures although the calm, measured, professional aura that surrounds their roles forms a natural barrier to any fault lines that may lay hidden beneath the uniform.

The tragedy in the French Alps is an opportunity to take a long hard look at these issues.

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