25 Oct 2013

Five Reasons Flying is the Safest Way to Travel

Flying comes naturally to birds, bats, and insects, but for humans, it requires ingenuity—and several tons of machinery. Many people have a fear of flying, which is understandable: traveling 35,000 feet above the ground at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour doesn’t seem like it could possibly be safe. This article, presented by Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, reviews the evidence for the safety of commercial air travel.


Reason #1: Scrutiny
There is no other form of transportation that is as regulated, observed, inspected, and controlled as commercial aviation. Government agencies, private corporations, and public-private partnership agencies set performance standards, track accidents, and constantly refine procedures and requirements with a view towards improving safety even further. In the United States alone, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) all have input in to the safety of air travel. Companies that don’t meet even seemingly minor safety standards stand to lose lots of money in fines and penalties—even before accidents happen.

Reason #2: Operator Expertise
Earning an Airline Transport Pilot License, the qualification necessary to become a commercial pilot, is several orders of magnitude more difficult than earning a driver’s license, or even a private pilot license. To earn an ATP license, pilots must:

  • Have at least 1,500 hours of flight experience as a commercial pilot (cargo flight, crop dusting, etc.)
  • Pass a practical examination in the type of aircraft they will fly
  • Meet certain physical health and fitness standards, and undergo regular cardiac and medical tests
  • Pass a written examination covering meteorology, flight duties, navigational techniques, and more

Most airlines also require pilots to have at least two years of college experience before hiring them. Even then, pilots have to gain considerable experience as co-pilots before applying for captain positions. Drivers—even commercial drivers—don’t have to jump through nearly as many hoops.

Reason #3: Aircraft Technology
You may think your car’s parking sensor is pretty cool, but that’s nothing compared to what an aircraft has on board. Today’s airliners contain millions of dollars’ worth of equipment designed to mitigate as many potential hazards as possible. In addition to fire detection systems, there is equipment that gives pilots information about the weather and about air turbulence. There’s anti-collision detection equipment which warns pilots when other aircraft may cross its flight path, or helps them avoid accidents while taxiing. In development are systems that give constant updates to the pilot about engine performance, as well as back-up systems that help the pilot steer an aircraft even after other major systems on the aircraft have failed. And the FAA’s NextGen project is developing technology that will give pilots even more real-time data about all aircraft in the area, making our skies even safer.

Reason #4: Ground Support
When you drive in bad weather, you don’t have a voice in your ear warning you about a flooded-out road ahead, that you’ll pass another car in about half a mile, or making arrangements for you to park somewhere safe. Nor do you have a team of mechanics ready to inspect and maintain your car after every 100 hours of driving. Pilots do. Thanks to the assistance of air traffic controllers, pilots are given frequent updates about their flight route and when it’s safe for them to land. Meanwhile, mechanics, electricians, and avionics technicians thoroughly check over all of an aircraft’s systems and perform engine maintenance at regular intervals—not just when something seems wrong.

Reason #5: The Evidence
If you really want to be reassured about the safety of air travel, just look at the numbers. The National Safety Council compiles data about fatalities in the United States. For 2009, the most recent year for which statistics were available, they calculated that the average American’s lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident were 1 in 108. By contrast, you had a 1 in 7,229 chance of dying in an aircraft crash.[i] In fact, according to a February 2013 New York Times article, there has not been a single U.S. fatality for commercial airline travelers in more than four years, the longest stretch of time since the 1940s.[ii]