July 27, 2008


Flight’s First Fatal Trip (MATTHEW L. WALD, 7/27/08, NY Times)

The arc of safety improvements has been dramatic. Boeing, reaching back to the beginning of the jet age, found one fatal accident for every 30,000 commercial jet flights in 1959. By 2006, the rate for all airliner flights had dropped to one accident for every 4.2 million flights by Western-built commercial jets, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit research group. (Lieutenant Selfridge nonetheless stands at the head of a rather long queue. Boeing counted 26,454 deaths of people on commercial jets between 1959 and 2006, and an additional 934 on the ground.)

Still, an American’s chance of dying in a plane crash last year was one in 432,484, according to the National Safety Council, while the chance of dying in a car was one in 19,216. The lifetime risk? According to the council, one in 5,552 for planes, one in 247 for cars. The airplane risk is dominated by smaller planes, often flown by a single pilot who may not be a professional.

Crash rates in Europe are comparable to those in the United States, and Asia and the Pacific are rapidly improving. Latin America shows some gains. (But don’t ask about Africa, where there is minimal ground-based equipment, like navigation aids, weather reporting and radar, and where planes fly with more maintenance problems and are often overloaded.)

It is very hard today, for instance, if not impossible, to fly an American jetliner into a mountain, because satellites can tell a crew where the plane is even when visibility is zero. But it took the crash of a Boeing 757 flown by American Airlines, in December 1995, to prompt the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines to make sure all airliners had the new equipment.

No matter how good the newer windows, the bakers don't buy them until the old ones are broken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2008 10:36 AM

The article was pretty simplistic. It failed to mention that the American jet that flew into a mountain did so in Columbia, not here. And the cause of the Air France crash in Toronto was probably more due to heavy rain than wind.

Human error (such as the ValuJet crash) is still the biggest issue. The commuter jet that flew off the short runway in Louisville is a good example.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 28, 2008 11:42 AM
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