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Europe

Plane crash at cruising altitude rare, aviation expert says

An Airbus operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline crashed Tuesday in a remote area of the French Alps. It's unusual that the crash happened in the cruise phase, a German aviation expert told DW.

DW: Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr spoke of a

"black day" for the airline - an airline that is regarded as very safe. What's your assessment of the situation?

Heinrich Großbongardt: Lufthansa is in fact a safe airline by international comparison, and the same is true for its subsidiaries. The crash, as such, is unusual in that it happened in excellent weather conditions and during the cruise phase, which is by far the safest phase of a flight. If accidents happen, they usually happen during the approach for a landing, or the landing itself, or at take-off or shortly afterwards - 80 percent of all crashes happen during those phases, but it is a very, very rare event during cruise.

Do you have any information about the cause of the crash?

We don't know anything about what caused the crash. There isn't even a starting point for speculation, which is probably for the best. We really have to wait and see. The pilot made an emergency call, but we don't know what it was about. Now the victims of this terrible disaster have to be recovered, then they must find the flight recorder and the cockpit voice recorder in order to go through the data to find clues as to what happened.

Heinrich Großbongardt

Heinrich Großbongardt provides PR and crisis communication for airlines

Reportedly, the plane was a 24-year-old Airbus A320. Is that a normal age for a passenger plane?

That's absolutely normal. Planes that are well-serviced can even fly much longer. In the end, it's always an economic decision when a plane is taken out of service, but large international airlines, like Lufthansa, have a standard good maintenance system, so planes are regularly serviced. It is not conceivable that there were any hidden signs of aging.

Does it play a role at all that Germanwings is Lufthansa's budget airline?

No, because low cost doesn't mean unsafe and, in particular, it doesn't mean trying to save money on maintenance. Low cost carriers depend on their planes being totally fit for service. Cancellations and late flights cost a lot of money, so it's cheaper to invest in state-of-the-art maintenance. "Low cost" doesn't mean saving on maintenance, it's actually the opposite.

What is Lufthansa's next step?

Of course, recover the victims, the flight data recorders, look after the families - airlines and airports have mechanisms in place to deal with this really very difficult part of the business. It's tough, also for Lufthansa and all the colleagues, the next weeks will be difficult. But just like other major international airlines, Lufthansa is well-prepared for theses rare cases.

Heinrich Großbongardt is an independent aviation expert and managing director of Expairtise Communications in Hamburg.

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