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How Does the San Francisco Airline Tragedy Make You Feel About Air Travel?

Aviation Disasters

How does the crash of Asiana Flight 214 at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) make you feel about flying? Are your feelings strong enough to prevent you from air travel in the future or do you choose to fly anyway?

Of course, with any means of travel there is a certain level of inherent risk. Most of us travel to work by car. According to the National Safety Council report of 2008, the odds of dying in an automobile accident are calculated to be 1 in 98 for a lifetime. In contrast, the odds of fatality from air and space transport were 1 in 7,178. The obvious conclusion is that flying is safer than driving.

Boeing 777 Japan Airlines

And for commercial aviation, this is true.

But just because large passenger jets and major airline crashes only occur a few times a year, this does not mean that plane accidents are rare in general aviation. General aviation is a broad term but is used to denote everything except commercial aviation. Commercial aviation is what usually springs to mind when thinking about flying, and consists of airlines such as Delta, JetBlue, or Continental.  In contrast, general aviation includes a large range of operations such as private flying, business aviation, air ambulances, and sport aircraft. The aircraft in general aviation are small, often carry fewer than eight passengers, and have limited ranges of flying. Typically, a pilot must meet higher standards to operate a commercial aircraft than a private one.

In the past twenty years, our firm has handled a number of general aviation cases involving fatal but preventable crashes. Unfortunately, most of the crashes share a similar underlying cause. Too often, the pilots do not have the adequate knowledge, skills or training to fly safely, especially in questionable weather. This results in an average of 1,500 general aviation accidents annually, in which more than 400 pilots and passengers are killed every year. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), personal flying accident rates have increased by 20 percent in the last ten years while the fatal accident rate has increased by 25 percent.

Yet these statistics should not prevent us from flying commercially or even refraining from flying on general aviation. Instead, we should utilize these statistics and continue to exercise our caution in the choices we make. What I mean is this:

  • If you choose to fly general aviation, ask questions and get to know your pilot. How many hours has he flown? Is he familiar with the aircraft? Is he registered?
  • Check the weather. Smaller aircrafts are more susceptible to inclement weather. Don’t take risks just for convenience or business. At the end of the day, your safety matters more to your loved ones that being on time for a meeting.

Even when flying on commercial planes, there are still ways to further mitigate risk.

  • Pay attention to where you are sitting. Observe the exit rows in relation to your seat. Most commercial plane crashes are not fatal, but the resulting fires can be. So know where you are and where you need to go if an emergency occurs.
  • Don’t drink, or at least don’t get drunk. Although alcohol might be tempting to reduce flight related anxiety, in case of a crash, you want to have your wits around you. Higher altitude means that alcohol will enter your blood stream faster. You might start to feel those one or two drinks more than you normally would.
  • Use seat belts throughout your entire flight, especially on children. Many parents prefer to hold young children, but in the case of a crash, no one is strong enough to resist the high g forces of free fall. Children are much safer when buckled into a car seat. 
  • Be mindful of overhead luggage. No matter how tempting, don’t over pack  When overweight luggage is stored overhead, it can come free during turbulence and cause serious injury. 

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