The Safety of Air Travel: Rekindling Concerns

Two recent incidents in air travel have once again brought the issue of aviation safety to the forefront. However, it is important to remember that flying still remains one of the safest modes of transportation.

Boeing experienced a setback on Monday after news broke that an unneeded emergency door panel on a 747 MAX-9 jet had blown out during an Alaska Airlines flight last Friday. This incident followed another one on January 2nd, where a Japan Airlines jet caught fire after colliding with a Japanese coast guard plane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Fortunately, no passengers or crew members on the passenger jets suffered serious injuries. However, tragically, five out of the six people on board the coast guard plane lost their lives. It is worth noting that the Alaska Airlines accident occurred after the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner from March 2019 to November 2020 due to two deadly crashes within a short period of time.

In response to these events, the Federal Aviation Administration took immediate action over the weekend. They ordered the temporary grounding and inspection of Boeing 737 MAX-9 jets. Some configurations of the MAX 9 jets, which have fewer seats, have an emergency exit that is plugged with a panel because it is not needed based on the capacity of the aircraft. This practice of using emergency-exit door plugs has been in place for 737 jets since the 1990s, according to Citi analyst Jason Gursky.

Despite these incidents, it is important to consider the larger picture. Statistics reveal that flying on commercial jets remains an extremely low-risk activity. The National Transportation Safety Board reports a steady decline in aviation accidents over the past two decades, reducing from approximately 1,800 incidents per year in the early 2000s to approximately 1,200 incidents in recent times.

As travelers, it is natural to have concerns about safety in light of recent events. However, it is crucial to recognize that the aviation industry continues to prioritize safety and make improvements to ensure a secure flying experience for all passengers.

Aviation Accidents: A Closer Look

Statistically speaking, the number of aviation accidents may appear concerning at first glance. However, it’s important to note that approximately 85% of these accidents involve private, noncommercial aircraft. Another 10% can be attributed to agricultural planes and commercial private jets, such as on-demand air taxis.

Contrastingly, large-scale commercial air carriers only experience an average of 20 to 30 accidents per year, with very few resulting in fatalities. This is quite impressive considering that airlines operate nearly 10 million flights annually.

To put things into perspective, motor vehicle traffic crashes claim the lives of over 40,000 individuals each year, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Investors in aircraft manufacturers like Boeing can rest assured with this knowledge. Most aviation accidents stem from encounters with turbulence, abnormal runway contact, or ground collisions. In fact, over the past two decades, a mere two dozen accidents involving large commercial planes have been caused by failures in systems and components.

These trends prevail worldwide. In 2022, there were only 39 aviation accidents out of the 32.2 million commercial airline flights recorded by the International Air Transport Association. While five of these accidents resulted in loss of life, none occurred within the United States.

According to the IATA, an individual would need to take a flight every day for 25,214 years on average to be involved in a fatal plane crash. It is worth noting that flying is considered one of the safest activities a person can engage in; however, it is not entirely risk-free, as stated by IATA’s director general at the time of the report, Willie Walsh.

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