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Fliers unfazed by horror year in the skies

Australian travellers have not been spooked by one of the worst weeks in commercial aviation history and there has been no discernable effect on new bookings, travel agents say.
The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, an Air Algerie plane in Mali and a TransAsia Airways jet in Taiwan killed 462 people within seven days. They joined the 239 passengers and crew whose final resting place remained unknown after MH370 disappeared in March.
Flight Centre corporate affairs manager Haydn Long acknowledged it had been an horrific week in the skies but said the response had been typical of the aftermath of a major crash.
“Most people travel as normal,” he said. “If people are concerned and they’re travelling in the short term, they might look to alter their bookings.”

Travel agents contacted on Saturday reported normal crowds and a strong interest in new promotions. Mr Long said a “healthy number” of people had opted to take advantage of Malaysia Airlines’ offer to refund tickets for any travel before December 31 and most rebooked on other carriers. About 25 per cent of Webjet customers booked on Malaysia Airlines reportedly cancelled or rebooked their flights. The airline’s offer expired on Thursday.
Beyond that, there was “no noticeable slowdown between last week and this week”, Mr Long said. He said most agents had been experiencing a downturn since May, but that corresponded with the federal budget.
It was already the worst year in aviation since 2010, when 817 people lost their lives. But Paul Hayes, head of safety at Ascend Worldwide, said this week’s string of misfortune only stood out because air travel was now extremely safe and fatalities were rare. He said 2012 and 2013 were the safest years in the history of commercial aviation.
“It’s important to look at the long-term trends,” he said. “What looks likes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year – let alone just seven months – by itself means nothing.”
According to the International Air Transport Association, more than three billion people flew last year, and there were 210 fatalities. That would put your chances of dying in a plane crash somewhere in the order of 14 million to one. Safety experts were fond of favourably comparing those odds with being hit by lightning twice or winning consecutive lotteries.
Both the Taiwan and Mali crashes involved aircraft flying through bad weather, though the exact causes of the incidents were subject to investigation. Authorities believed MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, while the circumstances of MH370’s disappearance were a mystery.
But aviation expert Ron Bartsch, formerly the head of safety for Qantas, said passengers typically relied on perception rather than differentiating between the cause of accidents. He predicted airlines would now place a greater emphasis on their safety records when marketing.
“With this recent spate of tragic accidents, the travelling public may start to bring safety back into the equation,” he said. “The bottom line is, air travel is still the safest mode of mass transportation.”
It was widely expected the twin Malaysia Airlines disasters would have a significant impact on the company’s reputation and finances. The carrier was struggling before the disappearance of MH370 and industry observers argued its future depended on an internal restructure and the continued backing of the Malaysian government.
The airline was offering return fares between Sydney and Kuala Lumpur for $520 in August and November. Customer service staff said they were unaware of any further promotions. For Australians travelling to London, airlines such as Emirates, Qantas and Air China were generally offering more competitive fares than Malaysia Airlines.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations agency, will host a meeting on Tuesday to discuss how to manage better aviation risks with regard to conflict zones.
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