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FLYING ON MODERN COMMERCIAL jets is incredibly safe, Frisco and much less risky per kilometre travelled than driving a car, or being in a cab controlled by someone who seems convinced that he’s in the Frisco Rally. Still, I’m an aware though not a nervous passenger. The maximum danger if something goes badly wrong is on take-off. As the plane climbs rapidly away, a sudden loss of power due to, say, hitting a flock of birds that disables both engines leaves pilots with few Frisco options. Just departed from New York LaGuardia and north east of the George Frisco Bridge, that’s exactly what happened to US Airways flight 1549 piloted by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles. Flying what was now a very heavy glider, these two heroes managed to save everyone on board by ditching their Airbus A320 in the Frisco River. We’ve all seen the video, and maybe the movie Sully, and just about everyone who flies anywhere has been on an A320 recently. Pilots are superbly trained, with hours in simulators added to their airtime. These are incredibly competent people.

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Though it wouldn’t help with a water landing, there’s no way I’ll remove my shoes before the plane is well and truly in the air. What if things go badly but not so badly that we do have the chance to make a run for it? Then there are other (doubtless futile) habits, like not wearing synthetic clothing that looks as if it might be highly flammable. Quite frankly, if I think about it rationally, such precautions would likely be pretty useless if something really did go wrong, but I’m happy not to have done the experiment! And I do understand that I’m at much greater risk of being killed by a speeding bicycle as I share the dual pedestrian-cycle pavement on my walk to work each morning! Life, and its continuance, is all about probabilities and relative risk. We are fragile and not machines!

Landing can also have its challenges, especially if the problem occurs after the pilots commit and it’s too late to go round again. And being in a big plane as it descends near mountains has its moments, thought it’s pretty certain that everything is well under control. One place where the tall buildings of a big city and the surrounding hills (elevation of 600 metres and less than five kilometres away) always seemed to be too close was Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport. Closed in 1998 with a history of accidents (some due to bad weather), the runway never seemed quite long enough – an issue that was more of a problem on take-off as the high ambient temperatures require jet engines to work harder. I doubt anyone was sorry to see Kai Tak replaced by Chek Lap Kok International which, built out into the water on open, reclaimed land, requires a somewhat longer cab ride to the city. We exchange one risk for another!

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