Air travel getting safer despite high-profile disasters

Air travel much safer these days.

Air travel a much safer propositionthese days. Image by Frank Kovalchek / CC BY 2.0

This year, of the 47 million Americans travelling more than 50 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving, some 3.6 million of them will be flying higher, faster and further than any turkey to their destination. But the disappearance of flight MH17, the alpine crash of a Germanwings plane and the more recent bombing of a Russian plane over Egypt understandably raise questions over travelling by plane.

So is air travel getting safer or more dangerous? The blog HumanProgress.org, a project of the Cato Institute, has published statistics tracking the number of safety-related fatalities in the sky since the beginning of commercial airliner traffic in 1942.

The peak of airline fatalities occurred in 1972, when just under 2400 people lost their lives in the air for reasons other than sabotage and shootdowns. Last year, the figure was around 800 – and that’s despite a sevenfold increase in the number of passengers taking to the air. Pilot error, and not terrorism, remains the most common cause of fatalities in the air.

Statistically speaking, a passenger has a one in 11 million chance of dying in a plane, and a one in 5000 chance of dying in a car accident – meaning you’re more likely to die in the taxi on the way to the airport than in the plane itself. Even more encouragingly, 95.7% of passengers survive plane crashes. But if you’re disinclined to trust statistics, there’s always the bus, which remains the safest transportation option.

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