Interview with ALEX BYSTRAM – the Executive Producer of AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION. He discusses the upcoming series, CGI technology developments and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Air Crash Investigation began in 2003, with Season 17 currently airing on National Geographic. The show looks at air disasters, near crashes and other such emergencies.

Bystram says that this season shows how significant progress was made, “We will be covering 9 gripping stories that brought about changes to commercial aviation.”

So what can you expect? “Qantas Flight 72 in which a line of code buried deep in the plane’s automation nearly brought down one of the most sophisticated jet-liners on Earth. It will show the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over a conflict zone in Ukraine – to Continental 1713 which crashed in Denver (in 1987), partly because of a misunderstanding which allowed ice to build up on its wings.”

“We will also be telling the story of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship 2 which disintegrated during a test flight over the Mojave Desert. This is the craft that will soon be shuttling paying customers to the edge of space and back.”


Meanwhile Alex says that he was excited by his team overcoming challenges to tell a compelling story. “From a production standpoint I was impressed by our Art Department’s ability to convert a cockpit into a remarkably convincing version of Spaceship Two.”

“I think we were all struck by the enormity of the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed all 298 people on board. It underscored the need for better co-ordination between international aviation officials to prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again.”

The show has changed a lot since it first aired over 15 years ago. “Two major developments have really defined the current look of the series.”

“Advances in CGI technology have made it possible to recreate flights in a more realistic way. Sometimes even I am fooled by the life-like CGI elements of the show.”

“Another major change is advances in cameras that allow us to shoot with a quality of camera that would have been unaffordable in 2003. The price of cameras offering cinema-grade images has come down to a point where most TV shows can afford them.”

Episodes will air for an hour on National Geographic, but creating it is a big job. “It takes around 12 months to make an entire season (10 episodes), roughly 30 weeks of work to complete a single episode.” Alex then provided a rough breakdown – 4 weeks research, 7 weeks writing, 2 weeks shooting interviews, 3 weeks to prep/shoot drama and 10-12 weeks editing/post production.

“The studio crew then has about 3 weeks to build the props and the set needed for each episode. Creating the CGI alone takes a team of illustrators and animators more than a month. We have also adjusted the story-telling, so it is more focused on the investigation than on the flight itself.”

The Executive Producer revealed they are already preparing for Season 18. “We are researching stories and are also producing 10 compilation episodes that will group together accidents with similar causes and explore the progress that has been made in that particular area of aviation safety.”


Telly Binge spoke to Alex Bystram in February 2018. To find out more about the series, follow the show on Twitter for updates.

Air Crash Investigation is currently airing every Thursday at 9pm on National Geographic.