Murphy's Law: Fear of Flying in Iraq

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February25, 2007: A recent spike in attacks on American helicopters in Iraq is unlikely to have any impact on the use of air transportation in Iraq. Just as the more extensive use of roadside bombs has not interfered with ground transportation. However, the high visibility roadside bombs received in the media has had an impact on the use of helicopters in Iraq. While troops are more likely to get injured in a vehicle accident, than by a roadside bomb, in Iraq, the presence of the bomb threat has caused greater demand for helicopter transportation. Many American bases have what amounts to "bus service" via air. People show up at the helicopter pad, and often find an informal schedule of flights posted. The net result is that many troops go to Iraq and hardly ever use the roads when they move around, because it's so easy to get a ride on a helicopter. The recent attacks on helicopters made people anxious, but has not reduced the demand for air transport.

The same phenomenon was noticed four decades ago in Vietnam. The helicopter was new then, but troops quickly caught on to the fact that it was faster, and safer, to travel around by helicopter. Back then, you were twice as likely to get shot down while moving by helicopter, but the casualty rate for helicopter passengers was so low, that it did not discourage troops. Helicopters were also more than twice as likely, then than now, to go down because of a malfunction, but this did not discourage people either. Vehicle accident rates on the ground were higher, and there were roadside bombs and ambushes in Vietnam as well. But in Vietnam, the the media did not make a big deal about the road dangers. That's because there was so much more combat going on in the bush. So remember, what you see in the news may be true, but it is rarely the whole story.

 


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