Fundamentals of Geography: Airline Tragedy

Geography plays a much bigger role in our lives than we sometimes realize. Every day, we make decisions based on how to get from one location to another – and it becomes even a greater concern when we take into account our mode of travel because geography is essentially mathematics:

Distance = Time + Cost

So we make location decisions based on our ability to reduce the variables Time and Cost to affect the outcome Distance. How far do we drive to work, school, or recreation is part of our daily interaction with geography.

The horrible tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was shattered in Eastern Ukraine along with as many as 300 lost souls is an example of how geography matters. If one wants to avoid large land areas, this will increase distance – and increase our variables of time and cost. Airlines must consider profit and customer convenience (time in-flight) when plotting courses between locations. Weighting the consequences of a chance encounter with a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile is not often part of the equation in the consideration of flight paths.

Mathematically, our old friend Pythagorean, working with Euclidean geometry, figured out the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of a right triangle. In simple geographical terms, by traveling the hypotenuse, one moves over a much shorter distance (975 miles) as opposed to the combined distance of legs a + b (1240 miles). Time + Cost are reduced considerably:

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This is not much solace for the poor folks who perished in this catastrophe. An international act of intentional terrorism or a mistaken identity and nervous trigger finger will undoubtedly be played out in the media for years. What is sure is that geography is always an issue that needs further consideration and appreciation – because geography matters.
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“Then my spirit will haste to her resting-place, As she lies on the wreck-strewn floor;
I will shelter my love in a close embrace, Till the sea shall be no more.”

Danske Dandridge, Lost at Sea, 1900

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