Saturday 20 December 2014

Is it still safe to fly?

A spate of disasters has sent shockwaves through the aviation industry. But stastistically, flying remains safer than walking, driving or cycling a bike.

Published 29/07/2014 | 09:45

MH17. AH5017. GH222. Aviation disasters have come thick and fast this fortnight, prompting new fears for passenger safety.

But it's not just this fortnight. Last March, Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappeared less than an hour after take-off with 239 people on board. It's still missing.

In recent days, flights to Tel Aviv have been cancelled, and an EasyJet plane was forced to make an emergency landing after being struck by lightning.

Flying is traditionally regarded as the safest form of transport, but with over 700 commercial aviation-related deaths so far this year, is it becoming more risky?

Airplane flying above tropical sea at sunset
Is flying still the safest form of transport?

"Every accident is one too many," said Tony Tyler, CEO of the International Air Transport Association (ITAA) in a statement following a tragic week for aviation.

"With three tragedies in such quick succession, many people will, understandably, be asking questions about aviation safety," Tyler continued.

"But even so, getting on an aircraft is still among the safest activities that one can do."

His logic?

Every day, approximately 100,000 flights take off and land without incident according to IATA, which represents the airline industry.

That's around 36.5 million flights a year - and while over 700 deaths is clearly over 700 too many - the fatality rate is still relatively low.

Roughly, it equates to one death per 48,217 flights.

Until this year, deaths had been trending downwards - even as more and more flights were taking to the air. In fact 2013, with 210 deaths, was the safest year for air travel since World War II.

By contrast, 1.24 million people were killed on the world’s roads last year, according to the World Health Organisation's Global Report on Road Safety.

Clearly, we take more car journeys than flights.

But even when deaths per billion kilometres travelled are compared, air travel ranks safer than travel by car, rail or even foot.

Here's the fatality rate per billion kilometres travelled for the period 1995-2009, according to a UK Department of Transport report cited recently by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

  • Airline: 0.003
  • Rail: 0.27
  • Car: 2.57
  • Cycling: 34.6
  • Pedestrian: 43.27
  • Motorbike: 106.67

mh370, getty.jpg
Nor do the disasters appear to be affecting airline business at this stage.

"We have seen no impact to bookings," said an Aer Lingus spokesperson, responding to a query about booking levels in the wake of the recent air disasters.

Ryanair also reports no adverse impact – in fact, the airline’s most recent profit report stated that it expected to see traffic grow by 5pc to 86 million passengers in 2014.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, Malaysia Airlines last week announced that it was offering no-questions-asked refunds on all tickets valid for travel in 2014.

Total postponements and refunds were between 5-7pc, according to the Irish travel trade magazine, Travel Extra.

“Load factors from London and Europe remain high whilst forward bookings from Ireland having dropped initially following the incident, are now getting back to normal levels," it reported.

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