If you want to travel safely, go by the air

The fear of flying is one of the most common and understandable. After all, flying is not a natural condition for humans and ten kilometers above the ground is not the best place to be. But still, planes are the safest means of transport there is.

Nov 17, 2023 - 22:28
If you want to travel safely, go by the air
Image by Orna / Pixabay

Being afraid of flying is a common situation - and it doesn't go away, but often tends to get worse with the number of flying hours accumulated.

Plane crashes are rare, but they almost always involve a large number of victims. This has a shrinking effect on many people at the idea of ​​traveling by air.

But the truth is that much less people die on the trails in the sky than traveling on the planet's roads.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.35 million people die each year globally due to road traffic accidents. This figure encompasses all types of road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, in addition to occupants of cars and other vehicles. This statistic provides an overall estimate for road traffic fatalities rather than specific figures for car accidents alone.

On the other hand, and taking the numbers from 2019, we find that 347 people died that year in two major plane accidents. In other words, for every victim of an air disaster there were 3,900 victims of road accidents.

In both Europe and the United States, the number of deaths in car accidents has been gradually decreasing over the years due to improvements in road safety, vehicle design, and other factors. In 2019, there were approximately 22,800 road traffic fatalities in the European Union, according to the European Commission. This number has been declining over the past decade.

In the United States, in the same year, there were around 38,800 deaths in motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like in Europe, the U.S. has seen a general trend of decreasing fatalities in recent years.

Also in 2019, the number of fatalities in commercial aviation accidents worldwide was extremely low compared to other modes of transportation. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there were 346 fatalities in commercial aviation accidents in 2019. This figure includes accidents involving large commercial aircraft.

This number includes the greatest accident that occured that year, with Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (March 10, 2019): This Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on board. The accident had similarities to the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in October 2018, which also involved a Boeing 737 MAX 8 with 189 people on board, all dead. These incidents led to the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet worldwide and prompted a reevaluation of the aircraft's design and certification processes.


Why plane crashes are so rare

These accidents led to significant investigations, changes in aviation regulations, and a temporary grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet. The aviation industry and regulatory authorities have since taken steps to address safety concerns and enhance the overall safety of commercial aviation. 

Airplane crashes are rare due to a combination of factors that prioritize safety in the aviation industry. Here are some key reasons why plane crashes are infrequent:

  • Stringent Regulations: Aviation is one of the most regulated industries globally. International and national aviation authorities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), establish and enforce strict safety standards for aircraft design, maintenance, and operations.

  • Advanced Technology: Modern aircraft are equipped with advanced technology, including sophisticated navigation systems, communication devices, and safety features. Automation assists pilots in managing various aspects of flight, reducing the likelihood of human error.

  • Pilot Training and Experience: Pilots undergo rigorous training, including simulator exercises and recurrent training programs. This training prepares them to handle a wide range of situations, including emergencies. Additionally, strict qualification requirements ensure that only highly skilled individuals become commercial pilots.

  • Aircraft Maintenance: Regular and thorough maintenance is crucial for ensuring the safety of aircraft. Airlines follow strict maintenance schedules, and any identified issues are promptly addressed. The concept of "preventive maintenance" helps catch and fix potential problems before they become safety hazards.

  • Improved Design and Engineering: Advances in aircraft design and engineering contribute to enhanced safety. Lessons learned from past accidents lead to improvements in design, materials, and manufacturing processes, making newer aircraft safer than their predecessors.

  • Global Cooperation: International collaboration and information sharing on safety issues help identify and address potential risks. Organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) facilitate global standards and practices, fostering a culture of safety worldwide.

  • Risk Management: The aviation industry employs robust risk management strategies. This includes careful route planning to avoid adverse weather conditions, efficient air traffic management, and thorough safety assessments before and after each flight.

  • Continuous Improvement: The aviation industry has a strong commitment to continuous improvement. Investigations into accidents or incidents lead to the identification of contributing factors, allowing for the implementation of safety measures and enhancements to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

While airplane crashes are rare, the aviation industry remains vigilant in addressing safety challenges and adopting measures to further reduce risks. The combination of strict regulations, advanced technology, comprehensive training, and a safety-focused culture contributes to the remarkable safety record of air travel.

Janet Bluesky Member of EA Coordination Team