Despite the fact flight crew contributes to 55% aircraft accidents, it would take a passenger flying every single day, 43,720 years until one would experience a fatality in an aviation accident. The probability of being killed in an aviation accident is less than a billionth of 1 per cent.

Decision to Begin Blogging

Until now I keep wondering whether or not – I have chosen to blog or blogging have chosen me. Regardless where the truth lies, I have decided to blog about the aviation industry. It is not an easy task when you realize English is not your mother language. But do I care about it? You are right – I do not care at all. All what matters is the fact I have an intrinsic need to share with people around the World my aviation knowledge, experience, opinions, insights, and passion.

It took me a while to decide what I should blog about. The aviation filed is huge. It covers not only airline industry, but also aircraft manufacturers, turbine engines, landing gears, many other component original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), airports, and much more. Under no circumstances we cannot overlook people who support, serve, and develop the aviation industry like aerospace engineers, aircraft technicians, avionic technicians, pilots, flight attendants, managers, air traffic controllers, and other professional groups. For the obvious reason I will share with all my readers various topics and information related to the aviation industry. If you rise a question “why?”, I will reply that my main intention is to develop a blog where readers not only will be able to read a quality content material, but also will be able to acquire knowledge from diverse aviation subfields to grow both personally and professionally. It definitely is easier said than done. But I am not here to write passively a lot about nothing to make you bored quickly. So let’s move on and enjoy your time with me.

How Safe is Commercial Aviation

There is strong empirical evidence indicating air transportation represents an incredibly safe mode of transportation. In their book, B. Vasigh, K. Fleming, and T. Tacker “Introduction to Air Transport Economics” compiled Air Transport Association (ATA) data and came to the conclusion:

Today, the number of fatalities in commercial aviation is incredibly minute. In fact, based on 2006 data, it would take a passenger flying every single day, 43,720 years until they would experience a fatality in an aviation accident. The probability of being killed in an aviation accident is less than a billionth of 1 per cent. In other words, the probability of being killed in an aviation accident is practically zero. In fact, many airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Emirates have never experienced a fatal accident, and many defunct airlines like Go, Laker Airways, Song, and MetroJet went through their whole operations without a fatal accident.

Major Aircraft Accident Causes

However safety is still a major concern in the airline industry. Despite very rigorous aircraft maintenance requirements, aircraft accidents still happen and causes of those accident fall into six major categories, including flight crew, airplane, weather, miscellanies/other, airport/ATC, and maintenance.

Airline Accidents by Primary Cause

Figure 1
Airline Accidents by Primary Cause

The data from the above graph clearly indicate that flight crew contributes to 55% aircraft accidents. Although the application of advanced technologies has helped significantly improved safety, the elimination of flight crew errors represents most challenges. Some people argue as long as flight crew is in control of aircraft it is impossible to eliminate human error. This supports the historical track the most deadly aircraft accidents happened due to human error. Sadly, investigations quickly revealed all tragic events were avoidable and only multiple of simple human errors contributed to unexpected catastrophic life ending flights.

The Deadliest Accident in the Airline Industry

One of the best examples in which flight crew completely contributed to the deadliest accident in the airline industry calls for the time to recall the Tenerife airport disaster in 1977 in which 583 passengers lost their life. Two Boeings 747 crashed at the airport while attempting to take off. The catastrophic event was preceded with miscommunication and multiple human errors. The well documented tragic occurrence most likely would have never happened if not a bomb explosion at the nearby Gran Canaria Airport. Due to terrorist attack the KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 were diverted to Los Rodeo Airport which is known now as Tenerife North Airport. Essentially, lack of proper navigation systems at the small airport, incredibly dense fog, two way miscommunications, and too many assumptions made by the flight crew contributed to this fatal accident. In her article “Top 10 Deadliest Airline Disasters”, Tessa Yelton very detailed describes how chain of multiple errors made by flight crew led to the catastrophe:

The captain of the KLM (an arrogant and difficult-to-work-with man who spent most of his time training new pilots, including his flight engineer on this flight, or talking to the media rather than flying) began to prepare for takeoff. His flight engineer pointed out that they did not have clearance to leave. They asked the controller for clearance, but the answer was unclear, partly due to interference from the Pan Am radioing at the same time to point out that they were still on the runway. The flight engineer did not dare point out a second time that they did not have proper clearance, potentially embarrassing the captain. The fog meant that neither plane could see the other, the local air traffic controller could hardly see the two planes, and the crew of the Pan Am most likely believed that nobody would be allowed to take off in such low visibility.

The KLM began to take off down the runway. They came in view of the Pan Am just as the Pan Am reached the fourth exit. The Pan Am pilot took a hard left onto the exit, and the KLM pilot hurriedly attempted to take off. Because of their enormous weight, being full of fuel, and their steep takeoff angle, their tail scraped along the runway, and the bottom of the KLM and its landing gear hit the upper right side of the Pan Am, tearing the top off. The KLM plane was momentarily airborne, but it had lost use of two of its engines, and it crashed back onto the runway. The enormous fuel fire killed everyone on board. 61 people on the Pan Am, including the flight engineer, ultimately survived.

29% Chance of Surviving a Commercial Aircraft Crash

Some people might argue the accident was long time ago and gone are the days in which flight crew contributes to deadly crashes. As times passes by, the application of more sophisticated resource crew management systems along with more strict pilot trainings and requirements significantly reduce a number of flight crew errors. However we cannot overlook the fact human error is the biggest aircraft accident related factor. The key question is whether or not we passengers should feel safe deciding to purchase an airline ticket. Despite all of tragic airplane accidents, it is fair to state airline industry represents a very safe mode of transportation. The statement can best be back up with a quote of Les Lautman, Safety Manger of Boeing Commercial Airplane Company, who stated in 1989:

If you were born on airliner in the US in this decade and never got off you would encounter your first fatal accident when you were 2300 years of age and you would still have a 29 per cent chance of being one of the survivors.

Conclusion

No matter how we approach aircraft safety, it can easily be quantified aircraft manufacturers and airlines do really amazing job in delivering super safety mode of transportation to travelers. Despite the fact media might occasionally generate negative publicity about airline safety due to an aircraft accident or incident, passengers should have no doubt air transportation represents one of the safest mode of transportation.

Do you agree or disagree with the above conclusion?

Have you ever experienced safety concerns while flying on a commercial airplane?

Do you think airline safety standards are consistent across all geographical regions?

References

Vasigh, B., Fleming, K. Tacker, T. (2008). Introduction to Air Transport Economics – From Theory to Appplications. Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Yelton, T. (2010). Top 10 Deadliest Airline Disasters. Listverse. Retrieved on June 13, 2015, from the World Wide Web: http://listverse.com/2010/12/30/top-10-deadliest-airline-disasters/

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I am an aviation professional and a creative opportunity maker with never-ending drive to learn and explore. I have an enjoyable aviation career since 2001 and work presently as a landing gear manager for a leading Canadian maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) aircraft approved organization (AMO). I had an opportunity to work for two airlines where I gained a solid aircraft knowledge and experience working as an aircraft technician. I also had a privilege to earn both, undergraduate and graduate degrees, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL, USA. I also graduated from an aircraft maintenance program from Centennial College, Scarborough, ON, Canada. I always am ready to have a good conversation and to connect with my former co-workers and new friends. I can easily be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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