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In The Light of the French Alps Crash, How Safe Is Air Travel Really?

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

“disappear”.

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

to take. 

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