an unavoidable risk to entertainment?

On November 12, 2022, six people lost their lives after a mid-air collision during the Wings Over Dallas air show in the United States. Subsequent footage of the two vintage aircraft, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighter jet, colliding was widely shared on social media, joining an archive of other shocking air show videos around the world. the world.

And just like in the aftermath of other aviation disasters, questions have been raised about whether additional safety measures should be applied during these events. The way air shows and air displays are organized has changed over the years, in part due to lessons learned from past accidents. One of the most significant events was the Ramstein air disaster in 1988, when three Frecce Tricolori – the aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force – collided resulting in the loss of 70 lives, including the three pilots who were on board the Aermacchi MB – 339A jets.

Recommendations following aircraft disasters

While some have long called for air show exhibits to be banned due to their inherent risk, these events have been a staple of aviation-focused events for decades. However, following an unintended loss of life, changes were made to minimize the risks to all air show attendees.

The Ramstein air disaster itself resulted in, for example, a ban on air shows in Germany for a short time, as additional safety measures were being considered.

“The events in Ramstein horribly confirm how dangerous such spectacles are even for civilian observers,” Walter Kolbow, a former member of the German Bundestag, said at the time, quoted by the Associated Press. Germany was still recovering from two previous disasters during the 1980s. The first was when a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed during an air show in Mannheim, Germany, killing 46 on board. The second took place in 1983, when a Canadian Forces CF-104 Starfighter dived into a highway near Rhine-Main Air Base.

In addition to the aerial display ban in Germany, a report prepared by the Defense Committee of the Bundestag and made public on September 29, 1989 stated that flying over spectators and aerial demonstrations, which had been prohibited from such actions during the events, including air shows, were now limited to aircraft displaying their flying capabilities. “Difficult or dangerous flight displays are to be avoided, without exception,” the report reads. “There will be no ability to approve exceptions and exceptions must be strictly prohibited when it comes to performance,” he continued.

Proceedings following disasters

Nearly 14 years after the Ramstein air show disaster, an even deadlier crash occurred in Lviv, Ukraine. While celebrations commemorating 60 years of operations of the 14th Ukrainian Air Force’s Air Corps were underway, a Su-27 attempted a roll maneuver at a dangerously low altitude, resulting in the aircraft flying in the midst of a crowd of spectators.

While the two pilots ejected, 70 people lost their lives in the tragic accident, which occurred in July 2002. The two were later blamed for the accident, as they had not “respected the flight plan and aerial maneuvers which were not on programme,” the BBC said, quoting Yevhen Marchuk, the head of the investigation into the crash. Attorney General Svyatoslav Piskun added that “negligence” was the reason behind the biggest loss of life at an air show since he believed it was “already possible to state that it was military negligence, a special category of crime.” According to The New York Times, the two pilots ejected from the out-of-control jet received eight and 14 years in prison in June 2005.

In April 2018, another pilot, Andy Hill, who was at the helm of a Hawker Hunter T7, went to court over his role in the Shoreham Airshow crash. The incident occurred on August 22, 2015, when the fighter jet hit a public road near the airport. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which investigates civil aviation accidents and incidents in the United Kingdom (UK) and its territories, concluded that the accident “the aircraft was carrying out a maneuver involving both a pitch and roll component, which started from a height lower than the minimum authorized by the pilot for the stunt, at a speed lower than the declared minimum, and proceeded with a thrust lower than the maximum.

“This resulted in the aircraft reaching a height at the top of the maneuver below the minimum required to complete it safely, at a lower than normal speed,” the report continued, adding that while it was still possible to abort the loop attempt, “ it appeared that the pilot did not recognize that the aircraft was too low to complete the descending half of the manoeuvre”.

Hill was acquitted in March 2019.

The AAIB provided the UK Civil Aviation Association (CAA) with a total of 33 safety recommendations between 2015 and 2017, to ensure proper maintenance of fighter aircraft, air show safety, including adequate risk assessment, crowd and performance separation and specific maneuvers, among others to ensure safety during future events. The CAA, whose “purpose is to minimize the risks associated with aviation, and our primary concern is the safety of the public, both in the air and on the ground,” introduced changes almost immediately, including a limitation on aerobatic performance.

Changing air show landscapes

Similar to the changes following the Ramstein air show, the CAA’s adaptations to the way these events are staged have affected the air show landscape in the UK.

Not long after the Shoreham disaster, the Royal Air Force (RAF) aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, canceled their aerobatic display, opting only for a flypast during that year’s Dartmouth Royal Regatta, as the CAA was undertaking a “comprehensive review of civil aviation”. shows in the UK”.

“It has been assessed that the necessary changes to the height and placement of the display would reduce the visual quality of the display to the public to an unacceptable level and therefore, regretfully, the Red Arrows will not be conducting a full display at Dartmouth this year,” a Red Arrows spokesperson said in August 2015 about the event, which had been scheduled shortly after the incident at Shoreham.

Notably, the Farnborough International Airshow in 2016 also had no aerobatic display by the Red Arrows, with the aerobatic team performing only one flypast in subsequent iterations of the event.

Eventually, the organizers of the fair announced it would become a five-day event, with the ground open to the public for just one day only. “We know that for many a weekend spent at the Farnborough International Airshow was a highlight, but after the 2018 show it was clear that this aspect of the show is not commercially viable in the long term,” said Gareth Rogers, chief executive. (CEO) of Farnborough International in March 2019.

Whether the recent Dallas mid-air collision will require changes from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) remains to be seen. In a media briefing, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) board member Michael Graham said that while we must remember that these were two aircraft manufactured in the 1940s and need not have a flight data recorder (FDR) or Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), “that’s one of the things we’ll look into along the way,” as a possible recommendation.

However, the FAA has collected a document detailing the arrangements during an air show, including requirements for the pilots, their stunts, and even overflights. The government agency established minimum credentials, as well as limitations for various stunts depending on the aircraft. Airports also have certain requirements, including ground operations plan guidelines that describe aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARF) procedures, crowded areas, and other operations that ensure a safe environment for every event attendee.

Psychological aspects of air shows

When analyzing an air show, there are many aspects to why people visit it. Whether it’s getting a closer look at the machinery at an airport, being part of a community, or admiring the skills of pilots performing aerobatic displays, all three are often featured at an air show.

According to a study titled “An Exploratory Study of Extreme Sport Athletes’ Nature Interactions: From Well-Being to Pro-environmental Behavior” undertaken in [date]: “Extreme sports are not viewed simply as outdoor recreational activities in which the most likely outcome of a mishandled mistake is injury or death, but the experience of approaching danger is integral to these sports .”

Exploring why athletes participate in life-threatening activities — prepared by six researchers and professors and peer-reviewed by two psychology professors — the study concluded that ‘extreme sports participation, while inherently risky, has psychological benefits that they range from evoking positive emotions, to developing resilience and life coping skills to cultivating a strong affinity and connection with nature and the natural environment.

However, extreme sports aren’t really like the job of a pilot, whether they’re working at a commercial airline or flying at an air show. Safety is paramount, as it still carries a certain amount of risk. A study prepared by Sarah-Blythe Ballard of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Victor B. Osorio, who worked at Naval Medical Research Unit 6, explored public health data from air shows between 1993 and 2013, concluding that “air show accidents were characterized by a high risk of fatal outcomes for pilots in aerobatic displays but rare mass casualties”. No temporal trend was observed during the data period, however air show performers accounted for 59% of air show related accidents during the period studied.

However, while a large number of lives lost was a rare occurrence, the “catastrophic crashes of Sknyliv and Ramstein indicate that, while they pose a relatively rare threat to spectators, mass casualties are a potential result of aviation events that should be incorporated in risk management strategies,” notes the study.

“Coordinating with the local health care system, conducting mass crash drills, briefing air show attendees, and providing emergency instructions to air show patrons could be effective ways to mitigate poor crash outcomes mass,” the study concluded.

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