Is Flying Becoming More Dangerous? Or Is It Still Safe?

The year 2023 has seen a rise in harrowing and tragic incidents on airplanes, leading many people to question the safety of air travel. Examples include a door plug blowing out on an Alaska Airlines flight, a Boeing jet plunging causing injuries, and a collision between a passenger plane and a military plane in Tokyo that resulted in fatalities. Even minor incidents like a wheel falling off a plane and engine fires have gained social media attention. Despite these incidents, flying is generally safe and safer than many other forms of transportation.

Commercial aviation, in particular, has an impressive safety record, with only a few deaths in accidents over the past decade. On the contrary, road travel in the US results in over 100 deaths a day, far surpassing the number of fatalities in airline accidents over the same period. However, other forms of flying, such as private jets and general aviation, carry higher risks compared to commercial airlines. Rail travel is considered the second safest form of transportation, with fewer passenger deaths compared to air travel.

While many experts emphasize the safety of flying and how it is generally unproblematic, concerns remain in the aviation industry. Criticism of quality controls at aircraft manufacturers, particularly Boeing, has led to skepticism about the safety of certain aircraft models. Despite this, the overall safety of flying has been proven, although recent incidents have highlighted the need for improvements in the aviation system.

The near-perfect safety record of the American aviation industry is largely attributed to a combination of efforts by aviation authorities, airlines, and manufacturers, as well as sheer luck. In many instances where accidents occurred, minor factors could have led to catastrophic outcomes. For example, the Alaska Airlines incident could have resulted in a much larger tragedy if the door had blown out at a higher altitude or if the plug had struck the tail of the plane.

While the aviation industry has been successful in preventing major disasters, recent incidents like near-misses on runways highlight the need for continuous improvement in safety measures. The stress on the aviation system due to staff shortages and other factors has raised concerns among experts like Ed Pierson. Despite disagreements on the urgency of making changes, there is consensus that overconfidence in the system’s safety could be detrimental and that a proactive approach is necessary to prevent future disasters.

Although experts like Anthony Brickhouse maintain confidence in the safety of current airplanes, they acknowledge the importance of addressing safety concerns and incidents that may erode public trust in flying. Acknowledging the fear and concerns of travelers, particularly in light of recent events, is essential for maintaining transparency and addressing potential risks. The focus on learning from past incidents and implementing necessary changes is vital to ensuring the continued safety of air travel.