How Safe is Air Travel, Really?
13-Apr-2018


Every life matters. But, sadly, 257 people have lost their lives in Wednesday’s air crash, near Algeria ’s capital city Algiers.

The military plane had crashed within minutes after it had taken off from a military airport, west of Algiers. We do not know the reason yet. But it has drawn focus, once again, to the fears of travelling by air. And to that big question, we all have.

How safe is air travel, really?

Simple logic tells us that, when air travel increases globally, the chances of an air crash could also increase. Right?

Wrong.

Air safety has, in fact, become better. Or that is what experts say.

It is a fact that, over the last few years, there has been a big boom in the commercial aviation sector, with more planes and more passengers, in more countries on more flight paths. But, it is also a fact that, proportionately, there has been less number of air crashes.

It brings us to infer that we can still, fully, rely on air travel as ‘a safe mode of transport’.

Here is yet another important fact.

“2017 was the safest year in history, for commercial airlines, according to industry research,” says a BBC news report (‘2017 Safest Year for Air Travel as Fatalities Fall’, BBC, 2 Jan 2018).

Actually, this news had even prompted US President Donald Trump to tweet like this: “Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record”!

Okay. You may not agree with his taking personal credit for this good news. But, if you check his tweet dated 2 January 2018, you will agree it is good news.

There is an ‘Airline Safety Network’ graph, showing year-wise air accidents since 1946, which I had found somewhat reassuring.

Interested readers can go to this website to see the chart: https://www.popsci.com/why-air-travel-became-so-incredibly-safe.

A Fortune Magazine article titled “Which Is Safer: Airplanes or Cars?” says, “Americans have a 1 in 114 chance of dying in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council. The odds of dying in air and space transport incidents, which include private flights and air taxis, are 1 in 9,821”.

The global policies and procedures on aviation safety have become increasingly strict. And these are ensuring that aircraft manufacturers and aircraft maintenance engineers pay close attention all factors related to aircraft safety.

The regulations related to air traffic planning and airport infrastructure have also become better.

The growth of information technology itself has given today’s pilots, enormous power. Unlike ancient devices which used to give unreliable data on speed, altitude and pressure, today’s software can give it instantly, and with high precision.

Technological developments made in the field of engines and lubricants too have helped in making long-haul flights more efficient. So much so, that just a few weeks ago, we saw the first non-stop scheduled flight from Perth, Australia to London, UK  which had taken 17 hours to travel 9,240 miles (14,875km).

However, the challenges ahead include the need to fight complacency within processes. Ensuring pilots’ adaptability to cockpits’ rapidly changing digital systems is also critical.

Boeing and Airbus, the two players in the duopoly of the large jet airliner market, since the 1990s, promise on their respective websites that they are seriously committed to ‘safety’ and are willing to go beyond public policy. Allianz, in its report on aviation insurance, says that “Big improvements in technology, training and risk management have together resulted in laudable improvements” in commercial aviation.

Perhaps, we must simply learn to trust them. They know too, that all lives matter.


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