OPINION

Low budget, higher risk?

The consequences of Monday’s air disaster reach far beyond the tragic deaths of its 121 passengers. Although it would be premature to draw any final conclusions, the findings of the ongoing investigation seem to confirm air crash statistics. It appears that the crash of the Helios Airways Boeing 737 was caused by negligence of flight safety regulations. The recent accident, and others that have taken place in recent years, raise the issue of whether the cost-cutting measures employed by at least some of the airlines have resulted in omissions in maintenance and safety checks. Passengers’ ability to evaluate airliner credibility is limited to checking their punctuality and the quality of services. Ordinary consumers, however, are unable to assess other safety determinants. Nor can they put their full trust in air carriers, particularly after so many new companies have made their way into this highly competitive market, struggling to survive by offering lower prices. Mass tourism in high-season periods increases the need for cheap air transport. As a result, private companies will always be tempted to trim costs and time by making compromises that may, initially, seem insignificant. To be sure, declining prices as a result of market competition is a welcome development, provided that it does not imply a decline in safety standards. Consumers will naturally look for the lowest price, but price comparison is made under the condition that all companies meet the required safety regulations. Passengers are willing to sacrifice comfort and, perhaps, some of the services in order to get lower prices. By no means, however, would they put their lives at risk. In light of the deregulation of the airlines sector and the emergence of a large number of new companies – some of which are hardly known for responsibility or their infrastructure – the state and international authorities must play a crucial role in ensuring compliance with safety standards. Otherwise, the reliability of air travel will be thrown into question with all the subsequent consequences for our way of life and culture.