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Whatever the eventual cause of the recent tragedy in the
Alps turns out to be, it is natural that a large number of people online are
asking just how safe air travel really is. After all, this is far from an
isolated case, with plane-related and terrorism-related incidents seemingly
becoming a weekly occurrence; from the shoot-out in Paris earlier this year to
the missing Air Malaysia plane.
We therefore thought it would make sense to investigate the
facts surrounding air travel and see exactly how safe international flight
really is these days? Is air travel becoming ever more dangerous (as the
mainstream media seem to be suggesting) or is flying still one of the safest
modes of transport in existence?
Thanks to the Aviation Safety Network it is surprisingly
easy for us to access the data pertaining to air-related accidents, casualties
and terrorist attacks. The data
makes interesting reading and shows that in actual fact the number of incidents
has declined significantly since the attacks of 9/11.
These days there are over 100,000
commercial flights each year. Of these, less than 1% of passengers are ever affected
by any form of airline-related incident. Indeed, according to the ASN, 2014 saw
just 3 accidents in total. That amounts to less than a tenth of a percent
impacted; in other words international flight can be deemed as very safe indeed.
This is hardly surprising when you think about the logic of
the situation. You see, while you are indeed travelling through the air at
several hundred miles per hour – something that scares many passengers – the
fact is that you’re surrounded by a huge safety-net of features all designed to
help you reach your destination without incident. Indeed, they are so effective
that only the tiny minority of issues ever manage to break through to cause a
problem. All planes go through a pre-flight checklist, for example, during
which time they are carefully checked for any mechanical fault which might
negatively affect the safety of a flight.
If there are any doubts, the plane is either repaired or
grounded. Then there are all the passenger checks, ensuring that passengers are
unable to take dangerous goods onto a plane. Lastly let’s not forget about the
network of radio waves, sonar and satellite messages that are constantly being
communicated with your plane and air traffic controllers around the world. This
is what makes incidents like the Malaysia Air flight so unusual – in that this
web of communication makes it very difficult indeed for a plane to simply
Indeed, possibly the most interesting data of all relates to
accidents by the different phases of flight. As it turns out, the vast majority
of incidents actually happen on their approach to landing. This can be as a
result of poor communication, pilot error or weather conditions for example but
as shown earlier, rarely result in fatalities or even injury. The point is that
even in cases where accidents do
occur the passengers will normally have almost reached their destinations
without incident anyway.
Overall, for nervous flyers this all seems to be very
positive news. It seems that air travel really is still one of the safest modes of transport around, and as a
result avoiding getting into an aeroplane seems like an unnecessary precaution
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