That is despite the apparent purposive crash of a Germanwings plane that killed 150 earlier this week. The co-pilot is said by French prosecutors to have crashed the plane into the Alps, for reasons currently unknown.
It also is despite the deaths of some 298 on board Malaysia Air flight 17 (MH17) when it was shot down over the Ukraine last July. Western intelligence sources have blamed pro Russia insurgents. Russia has blamed the Ukrainian government.
And it is despite the disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370 (MH370) earlier in 2014, where some 239 people are believed to have died.
Those three crashes - all mysterious - captivated the world’s eyeballs on round-the-clock cable news coverage. And so the belief has taken hold that flying today is more dangerous than ever. It’s not so, insist experts who have crunched the numbers and reached the entirely opposite opinion. Although the experts do acknowledge that some airlines are in fact too dangerous to fly. Names are named below.
As for current safety, numbers compiled by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that in fact 2014 was remarkably safe. There were 38 million flights and 12 fatal accidents. That compares to 34 million flights and 23 fatal accidents in 2010. 2014 did top the recent list for fatalities, with 641. In recent years only 2010, with 786, saw more deaths. Note: IATA excludes MH17 from its count, because that crash was not an “accident.” Add in those 298 souls, and 2014 becomes a very deadly year indeed - but air travel nonetheless remains safe.
Either way - and with no lack of compassion for those who died and their families - dying in the crash of a regularly scheduled commercial flight is statistically comparable to winning the lottery. It just occurs very infrequently, at least in developed nations - especially those in North America and Europe - where pilot training, aircraft safety and airport policies are advanced and enforced.
Veteran pilot Patrick Smith, who blogs at AskThePilot, is adamant about the safety of the skies. According to Smith, “The past decade has been the safest in civil aviation history, and the cluster of serious accidents over the past year, tragic as they've been, is unlikely to change the overall trend.” Smith added: “The accident rate is still down, considerably, from what it was 20 or 30 years ago, when multiple large-scale accidents were the norm. What's different is that, in years past, we didn't have a 24/7 news cycle with media outlets spread across multiple platforms, all vying simultaneously for your attention. The media didn't used to fixate so intensely on crashes the way it does today.”
Smith is right. Data at PlaneCrashInfo.com, for instance, shows over 40 fatal crashes in 1971 alone. There were 35 in 1989. That compares again to 12 in 2014.
Pilot Thomas Morrison refreshed our memories of recent U.S. aviation history
“The last fatal accident by an American operated airline was Colgan 3407 in February 2009,” Morrison said. That was a commuter jet carrying 49. All died. But that also means there have been six fatality free years in U.S. flying.
But do not assume passengers are safe everywhere. They are not. Gary Reeves, chief safety pilot at PilotSafety.org, elaborated.
“Flying is safer today than it ever has been," he said. "That being said many low-budget foreign based carriers are not held to the higher standards of the U.S. FAA. When booking travel on ‘cheap’ international carriers be aware of what you are getting. Typically you'll get younger much less experienced pilots, as low as one-third the minimum training required for U.S. certified carriers at very low pay and worse working conditions. Maintenance and safety inspections may also be a lot less than what is required here.”
Monitoring organization AirlineRatings.com ranks the globe’s 449 commercial carriers and it gives 149 its top, seven star rating (Australia’s Qantas, with a fatality free record in the jet era, is the perennial best of the best). But four airlines achieved only one star for safety, the lowest possible rating:
- Kam Air (Afghanistan)
- Nepal Airlines
- Scat (Kazakhstan)
- Tara Air (Nepal)
Understand, too, none of the one star carriers are currently permitted to fly in U.S. airspace because the Federal Aviation Administration holds every carrier that wants entry to U.S. commercial aviation standards and many smaller, foreign carriers don’t qualify.
Pilot Morrison added about the lack of aviation safety in some parts of the world: “This can be attributed to a general lack of oversight and budget constraints by the institutions in these regions. Unfortunately in some areas the social ability [to fly] outweighs the technical ability to operate up to American standards.”
Malaysia Air, incidentally, despite a difficult 2014 scored 5 of 7 points according to these ratings. Germanwings scored 7 of 7.
Bottomline - and despite recent horrific crashes - flying is safe. Very safe. As long as it is on a carrier that meets US and Western European standards.
—Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.