Fear of flying is unfounded

An AirAsia plane is about to take off behind a boarding Malaysia Airlines plane on the resort island of Phuket, southern Thailand. Barbara Walton / EPA
An AirAsia plane is about to take off behind a boarding Malaysia Airlines plane on the resort island of Phuket, southern Thailand. Barbara Walton / EPA

It has been a bad year for commercial aviation. Given the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in March, the shooting-down of MH17 over Ukraine in July and the loss of AirAsia flight QZ8501 this past weekend, one could be forgiven for believing that air travel is a dangerous venture. But the truth is that flying has long been – and remains – the safest form of travel available today.

Commercial aviation is a rare example of effective international regulation and cooperation. Millions of dollars are invested each year in training pilots and air-traffic controllers. Flights are delayed or diverted – often at great expense to the operators – if safety is compromised by equipment failure or phenomena such as fog, volcanic ash or turbulence. When accidents occur, they are thoroughly investigated, and the results are shared among regulators, carriers and manufacturers to reduce the chance of a recurrence.

Even given the huge increase in passenger numbers, last year saw the lowest number of deaths – 265 – in commercial aircraft incidents since 1945. This year, the aviation death toll will be higher – over a thousand – but the number of plane crashes is the lowest since 1927. So, here’s the rub. The chances of dying in a plane crash are one in 11 million, compared to one in 5,000 for a car accident. In 2011, 720 people died on the UAE’s roads and just 401 in air accidents globally.

This has to be comforting considering we are all flying so much today. Air travel has revolutionised the way we live, to the point that it is almost impossible to imagine our lives without it. Today, very few destinations are more than 24 hours away. Businesses and personal relationships have flourished as a consequence. In the UAE, you can buy fresh flowers from South America and chilled seafood from New Zealand. And you can easily transport yourself to Milan for a weekend of shopping, to New York for a business meeting or to Phuket to relax on a tropical beach.

There is no room for complacency about air safety – the aviation industry and authorities will, without doubt, learn from this year’s tragedies – but we should not succumb to aviophobia.

Published: December 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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