News headlines have been filled with stories of tragic airline disasters these past few weeks, from the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that killed 298 people to the crash of a passenger plane in Taiwan, killing at least 48 people, and the crash of Air Algerie flight 5017 where no survivors have been reportedly found.
This begs the question is it still safe to fly? Here are 5 reasons why flying is still a safe option for travel.
1. More reliable structural and mechanical parts
Advances in aviation technology have made planes structurally sounder than a few decades ago. These include
stronger seats that are less likely to move and pan caking together in a crash and crushing passengers;
carpets and seat cushions made from fire retarded materials that do not give off noxious gases when burned;
improved exits that are simpler to open and swing out of the way of exiting passengers;
rows of white light that changes to red when an exit is reached; and
improved and reinforced structural weaknesses that were identified by aircraft engineers from past crashes.
2. Sophisticated navigation system
Advancements in technology help pilots nowadays avoid fatal crashes. For instance, aeroplanes are now fixed with ground proximity warning systems that alert pilots when they're too close to the ground. It gives off an alarm and a computer with synthesized speech shouts "terrain, pull up."
Better radar systems in the cockpit and on the ground have also helped pilots avoid fatal accidents. Modern radar system in the cockpit warns pilots of other planes nearby, while radar on the ground helps planes from going down on active runways or wrong taxiways.
3. Crash rates
The Aviation Safety Network reported that there were 23 fatal aviation accidents and 475 deaths in 2012 worldwide. This shows a significant difference from the 42 crashes and 1,147 fatalities worldwide reported in 2000.
Dr. Arnold Barnett of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study on commercial flight safety and found out that between the years 1975 and 1994, the death risk for each flight was 1 in 7,000,000. This means that the probability of being in a fatal accident is 1 in 7,000,000.
Dr. Barnett even says that a person could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before succumbing to a fatal accident.
4. Odds of death
There are more probable ways to die than in a fatal plane accident. According to the National Safety Council, people have a higher chance of dying from a bee sting than from a commercial flight. Check out the table below, via Anxieties.com.
Cause of death:
1 in 2
Smoking by/before 35
1 in 600
Car trip (coast to coast)
1 in 1,400
1 in 88,000
1 in 450,000
Train travel (coast to coast)
1 in 1,000,000
1 in 1,550,000
1 in 1,900,000
1 in 7,000,000
5. Effect of availability heuristic
In psychology, availability heuristic happens when people make judgments based on the immediate example that comes to mind rather than on facts and data.
The term was coined by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1973. They suggested that availability heuristic makes people believe that things that easily come to mind are common and accurate reflections of reality.
Vivid images of fatal plane accidents magnified by the news and media easily stick to the public's mind. As a result, these images immediately come to mind when people think of airline travel, causing the wrong evaluation of its dangers.