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Turbulence and teachable moments

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The passengers on board American Airlines flight 2713 en route to Trinidad on Wednesday night, went through an ordeal attributed to turbulence.

Reports of injuries and trauma were carried across media platforms regionally and internationally, as passengers on what was supposed to be a routine flight recalled the nightmare they never expected.

Passengers told the Guardian that when the plane suddenly “dropped” and pilots obviously struggled to stabilize the aircraft, the screams that were heard in the cabin are the kind they can never forget. Approximately 20 passengers needed medical support.

Credit must go to every stakeholder that sprung into action that night, as anyone aware of the technicalities involved in emergency landings would appreciate that what happened at Piarco was commendable. The actions by those involved played a crucial role in what could have been a major accident.

While the AA flight crew, we are told, did relatively well under pressure, the Piarco Air Traffic Control operators were also effective, quick and calm enough in their intervention to impress even seasoned local industry experts.

The actions of the Airports Authority of T&T (AATT) are also to be noted. They were able to swiftly mobilise emergency services, including fire and medical crews, for the plane’s uncertain landing.

For their efforts in this exercise, this newspaper congratulates all airport staff who stepped up during this incident.

At the same time, we expect the AATT will at some point conduct an audit into what occurred behind the scenes to assess whether all protocols were followed, what was done right, or wrong, so that safety standards can continue to improve.

One can’t help but note the comparison and reaction on social media by Caribbean nationals reflecting on the performance of state-owned regional air carrier, Caribbean Airlines.

While CAL has its management issues, those now charged with dealing with flight management, maintenance, safety and other associated duties of the airline seem to have been relatively successful in keeping passengers and crew safe, recently.

Still, there have been incidents which have marred the airlines safety record. In 2011, a plane slid off the runway practically breaking in two at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana. Last November, an aircraft struck another one after landing at the same airport. Near mishaps for CAL have also been reported on the runways into New York.

Calm under pressure is expected to be the norm in the aviation industry, but like anywhere else, no one ever really knows how one would act in a situation which could end in tragedy.

In crisis, anything can happen depending on the reaction and actions of those in control. This incident ended relatively well for the aviation industry and those directly involved. It was an incident that could have happened to any airline, in any country and with any crew. How it was handled locally, we believe, is commendable. And for that, we are thankful.


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