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Do you need to be scared of flying?

We use statistics and reports to show that your chances of being in a plane crash is negligible

Image Credit: Creative Commons

John Smith’s next trip will be from San Francisco to London on an American Airlines Airbus A330. That flight has a 1 in 3,646, 151 chance of crashing. John could take that flight every day for 9,989 years before the plane crashed. Most people have a fear of flying, but the chances of it actually happening are very slim.

In 2017, 4.1 billion people travelled via airplane and not a single passenger plane crash took place that year. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. Crashes do in-fact happen, and because of how rare they are, we usually hear about every one of them. The most dangerous plane crash in history, according to author David Ropeik, happened in 1977 in Tenerife and 583 people were killed during the incident, after two jumbo jets crashed into each other on the runway.

That’s how many people die in the United States from heart disease every eight hours according to the Economist.

You are also more likely to die falling out of your bed or crossing the road or getting struck by lightning, than you are to die in a plane crash.

These statistics are courtesy of “Am I Going Down?”, an iPhone app calculates the odds of a disaster on the flight information that you input and  The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

 Click to enlarge image



This table, published in a report by Boeing in 2017 shows that the rate of accidents (fatal and non-fatal) is one or lower per million departures worldwide. 

How safe are you?

Watch: Do you enjoy flying?

In 2017, as of December 31, there were zero passenger jet accidents recorded for a continuous period of 398 days. This made 2017 the safest year on record for passenger jet aviation. It was also the safest year for aviation in general with less than a hundred fatalities in other accidents.

Safest Aircrafts in the world

A report by Boeing published in 2017 looks at aircraft models and accident rates – looking at both hull accidents without fatalities and those with fatalities.

The period looked at covers 57 years, from 1959 to 2016, focusing on commercial jet airplanes. There have been 1,426 accidents (with or without fatalities) of scheduled commercial jets in this time period.

These are the safest aircrafts (in no particular order) according to the report having zero incidents of either fatal or non-fatal accidents over this period.

 - Boeing 787

 - Bombardier CRJ700/900/1000

 - Airbus A320/319 Neo

 - Boeing 717

 - Airbus 380

 - Boeing 747-8

 - Bombardier C-series

 - Airbus A350

 - Airbus A340

These aircrafts have had zero hull accidents with or without fatalities as of 2016.

The report also shows models with some comparatively bad accident rates, such as the Boeing 707/720. These recorded an accident rate of 4.28 per million departures with fatalities, still lower odds than other possible causes of fatalities.

Note: Some of these models have been in operation for years (more than one million departures) and may even have been discontinued, while others are relatively new. This is in no particular order.

2018: Safest airlines in the world

Airline Rankings, a renowned website that compiles data on airlines around the world, released their 2018 safety rankings in November last year. The list features the safest airlines and also looks at other parameters such as aviation certifications, passenger ratings, age of fleet and track record among others.

The top 20 in this ranking in alphabetic order are Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, EVA Air, Finnair, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Scandinavian Airline System, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.


How safe is flying? An experienced pilot explains

By Jay Hilotin, Tablet Editor

With zero fatalities from aviation incidents in 2017, flying has never been safer; but pilots must remain ever mindful of things that could go wrong: miscommunication, the weather, the aircraft's condition and passengers, too

"I say again, turn!" the air traffic controller called over the radio, his voice rising, as the US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka swerved low over the runway at Kathmandu's small airport on Monday.

Seconds later, the plane went up in flames, crashing into a field beside the runway, killing at least 49 people. The pilot survived.

That fiery moment on Monday appeared to result from minutes of confused chatter between the air traffic controller (ATC) and the pilot of the US-Bangla passenger plane, as they talked back and forth about direction the pilot should use to land at the airport's single runway.

A separate radio conversation between the tower and at least one Nepali pilot reflected the sense of miscommunication.

"They appear to be extremely disoriented," a man said in Nepali, watching as Flight BS211 (Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop, 17-years old) made its approach, though it was not clear if the voice belonged to a pilot or the tower.

Rescuers stand near a passenger plane from Bangladesh that crashed at the airport in Kathmandu — AP

"Looks like they are really confused," said another man.


Crash investigations usually take time, partly due to the rigors of deciphering flight data; it may be months before aviation experts can definitively conclude whether it was indeed confusion — or miscommunication — that led to deadly Nepal crash.

The Kathmandu crash, however, was just one of the four aviation incidents that took place within a 48-hour period that took at least 65 lives.

On Sunday, it a private jet in Iran killed 11 people, including the heiress of a Turkish construction magnate

A chopper crash killed five people in the US on Monday. And few hours later, an emergency landing of Southwest Flight 3562 triggered panic among passengers who were sent leaping from the jet's wing.

While such incidents highlight the perils of flying, air travel is still safer than driving a car, as today's aircraft are some of the safest machines ever created and have been designed to keep working even if things go wrong.

More people actually die of lightning strikes (24,000 per year according to publicly available sources).

The Economist, citing 2015 figures, said the probability of dying in a plane crash is one to 5.4 million.

How safe is flying?

Commercial pilots undergo way more rigorous training other professionals — far tougher than that of police officers, firefighters and other safety-oriented professions.

But human error, a technical glitch and bad weather do spell the difference between joy and horror of flying. 

An experienced pilot who talked to Gulf News on condition of anonymity said pilot-ATC miscommunication is, generally, not an issue.

"There had been cases when accent posed a minor issue, but miscommunication (as a trigger for crash) is very rare," said the pilot who has been flying wide-bodied aircraft for several years.

"You have at least two pilots in the cockpit talking to the ATC, and the pilots also check each other — constantly. By law, English is the language of aviation. Both ATC guys and pilots must pass Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams as part of the licensing process."

"Thankfully, I've never had a miscommunication issue in my job," said the US-trained pilot.

 Emirates, Etihad among safest airlines for 2018

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 637,000 new pilots needed over 20 years: Boeing

"Flying is generally very safe. If you look at the figures, 2017 was one of the safest ever in aviation history; there was not a single fatal crash last year, despite the big spike in air travel," the pilot said.

About 4.1 billion people travelled via airplane last year, and not a single passenger plane crash took place.

Pilot fatigue

But human factor could also play a role.

"Every airline must follow certain protocols to ensure their pilots have enough rest, in order to avoid pilot fatigue becoming a safety issue.

Then fail-safe procedures must be observed, so that when one pilot calls in sick, a replacement is immediatley available. Not all airlines follow that protocol, however, especially when there's a manpower shortage," the pilot told Gulf News.

Manpower is also one important issue. The pilot added: "For every aircraft, you need at least 12 pilots — captains and first officers — whether it's flying a domestic or international route, single or double-isle. These pilots must be stationed in different cities."

He said, however, that pilot fatigue will increasingly become issue with a spike commercial aviation and as older pilots reach retirement age.

"In South-East Asia and China alone," said the pilot, "they're close to facing a pilot shortage. So does in America. A lot of airlines, especially low-cost ones, have ordered literally thousands of aircraft. You need enough people who are properly trained to fly them."

More planes, more pilots  

A Boeing report stated that airlines around the world would buy 41,000 new aircraft between 2017 and 2036.

That would mean at least 637,000 new pilots are needed to fly them, according to Boeing forecast released last year. That staggering figure is matched only by how many will leave or retire from the profession in the next decade.

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO, a UN body) rules set the limit of flying time to a maximum of 125 hours in a 30-day month. The same ICAO rules set a legal limit of 1,000 hours of flying time within one year.

A pilot's rest period is also important: "If I go lower than the required threshhold of rest, I'm no longer legally allowed to fly."

"A pilot who flies from city A to B; then to city C and D within an eight-hour period needs a minimum amount of rest of about 15 hours. A wide-bodied plane that flies long haul (4,000km or more; between 6-12 hours) needs three to four flight crew on board," the pilot explained.

Stress factors

Then, there are so many things that a pilot must mind before, during and after a flight. One is pesky passengers. Those who insist on using their smartphones during takeoff and landing could pose a major safety issue, the pilot explained.

"Electromagnetic waves from smartphones interefere with other electronics in different ways. I would still remind passengers to switch off their phone during takeoff and landing, due to possible inteference with the airfact's avionics and communication system," he said.

The pilot has to mind many other, the threat of wake turbulence (disturbance in the atmosphere that forms behind an aircraft as it passes through the air), the aircraft's age and its centre of gravity.

"If your plane is heavily laden and the payload rolls down to the end of the cargo hold, it could stall takeoff — and the result could be catastrophic. If, for some reason, the heavy cargo rolls to the front of the hold, it can also lead to catastrophic results."

The biggest challenge for a pilot, however, is focusing on the job — no matter the personal or domestic problems he may be facing.

"The job depends on so many factors: the condition or age of the aircraft, the cargo, the weather, the wind, the air traffic congestion and the ATC guys."

"It's a dream job for most people. I love my job. Not everyone gets the chance to fly a plane. You have to remain calm, collected and patient. When I'm on boad, fear of flying is the last thing in my mind," he said.



Most people have a fear of flying, but the chances of anything happening to them are very slim.

9,989 years - The number of years someone in the US must fly daily before the plane he's on crashes. 

A trip from San Francisco to London on an American Airlines Airbus A330, for example, has a 1 in 3,646,151 chance of crashing (based on “Am I Going Down?”, app that calculates the odds of a disaster on the flight information that you input and on the International Air Transport Association, IATA, data).

1977 - The most dangerous plane crash in history, according to author David Ropeik, happened in 1977 in Tenerife and 583 people were killed during the incident, after two jumbo jets crashed into each other on the runway.

580 - The number of people who die in the United States from heart disease every 8 hours, according to The Economist.

You are also more likely to die falling out of your bed or crossing the road or getting struck by lightning, than you are to die in a plane crash.

(With inputs from agencies)