My logical mind knows that I won’t die in a plane crash.
It knows that the odds of my plane going down are roughly one in 11 million. It knows that strapping myself into a car and trying to navigate the drive into Manhattan at rush hour will likely do more damage to my health than buckling into a jetliner for a flight to LA. But none of that means that I don’t talk myself into and out of my own mortality every single time I feel the slightest shiver of turbulence beneath the engines.
Thanks to Ukrainian engineer Vladimir Tatarenko, fliers like myself may no longer have cause to worry about dying a terrible death every time they board a plane. After working at numerous crash sites for the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov, Tatarenko decided there must be a more effective way to make planes safer.
“Looking at these horrible scenes and knowing the statistics of crashes I came to certain conclusions,” he told Ukrainian magazine AIN.UA. “People are wrong about air disasters, because some 80 percent of them happen due to human error.”
After decades of research, Tatarenko has secured a patent for a safety system that could spare the lives of thousands of passengers in the event of an emergency.
“Surviving a plane crash is possible,” he said.
His design envisions a passenger cabin that detaches from the nose, wings, and engines of the plane. After separating itself, the cabin deploys enormous parachutes and landing balloons, and reverse thrusters guide the descent back to earth.
The issue with implementing such a design would be that the additional structures add weight to the aircraft, driving up fuel costs, and take up additional space, reducing the number of possible passengers each flight could carry. These factors would make for a costlier manufacturing process, as well as a hike in ticket prices.
Given the extra expenses, airline companies remain reticent to explore the idea.
Tatarenko is not the first to conceive of a commercial aircraft that could protect its passengers in the event of a crash.
In 2000, Russian inventor Gamil Halidov worked with his son to design a plane with an encapsulated passenger cabin that could eject itself like an escape pod from the fuselage of the aircraft. The capsule would be made of a buoyant, fireproof, pressurized polymer that would weigh no more than two to four tonnes.
As with Tatarenko’s concept, however, Halidov’s plans were widely rejected by airline manufacturers on the basis that they would drive up production costs. Furthermore, some builders expressed concerns that by incorporating more components into a plane’s structure, the odds of mechanical malfunction would only increase.
All of this begs the question: what are airline companies doing to ensure the safety of their passengers?
After all, about 10 percent of all small general aviation planes come equipped with a parachute capable of carrying the plane, its cargo, and its passengers to the ground safely. Why not employ similar systems on larger aircraft, when so many more lives are at stake?
Boris Popov, founder of Miami-based parachute manufacturer Ballistic Recovery Systems, feels certain that one day, all large passenger planes will possess emergency parachutes. It’s the sheer weight of a commercial airliner that poses the greatest obstacle for engineers. According to Popov, in order to save a 500-passenger Boeing 747, it would require 21 parachutes each the size of football fields.
The most feasible option then remains to ditch the body of the plane and rescue only the passenger cabin. Nevertheless, engineers would have to design a system that would guarantee that this function wouldn’t unintentionally deploy.
It seems unlikely that commercial planes will be equipped with parachutes any time soon, and if they ever do arrive, fliers should be prepared to see their safety reflected in the price of their ticket.
Like any insurance plan, the odds are that you probably won’t need it. But when the belly of the plane shudders, when the wings bounce and the overhead bins tremble, wouldn’t you rather know that you and your loved ones have nothing to fear?