Friday, May 20, 2016

Assessing the Risks of Flying Egyptair on the Last Leg of a Journey Home

Another day, another plane crash.  This time with Egyptair over the Mediterranean.  Like the times of old, global media wasted no time in jumping with their various versions of speculations and conspiracy theories.  Now everyone flying the general region is all tensed up as TV coverage repeat the videos of crying family members and terse official statements from the Egyptian government.  Like the fiasco faced by Malaysian Airlines after two crashes, the company's image and revenues are both bound to suffer, a true misfortune to the first commercial airlines of the Middle East.

With terrorism cited as a potential cause of the crash (with some media outlets going so far as to declare it "much more likely than a technical issue" considering the plane that went down was only 15-16 years old), security checks throughout the region is bound to become more stringent, with more background checks, luggage checks, and deep probing that is so common at the Israeli borders but still not so much for other countries in the region.  Perhaps security personnel will become more alert and anxious, but without proper training and procedures, immediate changes are no possible.

This is particularly true for a country like Egypt, with so many people so dependent on inbound international tourists to make a decent living.  With the Revolution of six years ago giving the country a bad rep, it has become more and more desperate to bring back the tourists.  As a result, the country has long been lax on checking foreigners, issuing visa to anyone willing to pay on arrival, in order to make it easier and easier for tourists to come.  The side effect, undoubtedly, would be less and less background checks on anyone who come to the country.

Despite this flight originating from Paris, with French security more responsible for failing to catch the victimizers (if the terrorism hypothesis is later proven true), the fact that Egypt has lax attitude toward foreign visitors as well as continued socio-economic issues in the years after the Revolution (likely worsened from pre-Revolution days) would make the country much more of a magnet for targeted attacks than its more stable, prosperous neighbors.  The undemocratic ways by which democratically elected Islamists are pushed out of government only serve to strengthen the case.

Still, even if the terrorism theory is proven to be true, for everyone to suddenly jolt in defensive reflex probably would not be helpful.  Destabilizing Egypt (and/or France) and the wider Middle Eastern region is definitely in the intentional design of the terrorists, and to ensure that common people are led to behave in ways to make such destabilization a self-fulfilling prophesy would only make the job of the terrorists much easier.  The loser in this case will not only be Egyptair, but the entire perception of Egypt and the Middle East.

With terrorist threats on planes becoming very real-sounding prospect, even less international tourists will travel to all surrounding Middle Eastern countries, further pushing tourism-dependent communities into poverty, and create better conditions for radical messages of fundamentalists to be accepted by the restless and impoverished youth.  Less interaction with foreigners (and by extension, more moderating messages) mean less possibility of balancing out the radical messages, making it all the easier for radical organizations to recruit more people for terrorist attacks.

Thus, at times of speculating terrorism being probable cause of a passenger plane going down with all hands lost, it is all the more important for all other passengers to stick to their course, showing collective confidence on Egyptair, security apparatus at airports and beyond, as well as tendencies for moderate forces to prevail over radical ones that target civilians.  Only then can continued terrorism on planes be reduced as the perpetrators will eventually find such efforts to be futile in bringing continued fear to the general public.

And of course, if terrorism is ruled out as a possible cause, there should be even greater trust in Egyptair and global airlines operational standards.  Engineering and maintenance crews at all major international airports around the world (especially those handling large volumes like those of Paris) should be doing their best to keep all planes in good order.  This author, for one, will continue to place great confidence in their capabilities to ensure safe flights for all passengers in the aftermath of a disaster, being more careful to ensure no same mistake is made twice in span of days.

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