TWA Flight 800, EgyptAir Flight 990, and Alaska Air Flight 461 and countless other flight numbers from the past decade all have one major thing in common with each other. All three are commercial airline flights that have gone down with no survivors, and all of these flights have happened in the past five years. All three of these mentioned accidents got extensive publicity in the few weeks after they occurred, the reason for this was because of the great number of people that were killed on each flight. On TWA Flight 800, all 212 passengers were killed. On EgyptAir Flight 990, all 167 people lost their lives; and all 88 passengers aboard Alaska Air Flight 461 were killed on its final flight. Some of the causes for these, and countless other accidents, range from fuel tank explosions all the way to possible pilot suicide, and many crashes still have unknown causes. Despite the widespread publicity of many plane crashes lately, planes are still one of the safest, if not the safest, methods of transportation.
The fear of flying has risen dramatically in the past few years. This is mainly due to the worldwide publicity of plane crashes in the media. The millions
of people that see the devastation that tears families apart and shatters millions of relationships on television don’t want it to happen to them. What the media doesn’t show the world is the pain and suffering that is brought to thousands of families who have lost loved ones in automobile accidents. This causes many Americans to drive to their destinations rather than fly, but is driving really a safer way to travel than flying? Extensive research over the past several years has shown that flying is in fact the safest method of transportation. It beat out the three other major forms of transportation in the United States, which are: planes, cars, buses, and trains. In a 1997 Newsweek magazine study testing deaths per 100 million miles for different forms of transportation, it was proven that planes have the lowest death rate per 100 million miles of traveling. Cars have .94 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, while trains have .04 deaths and planes and buses each came out the same with .01 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Of course, you can’t use those statistics alone to determine which method is the safest method of transportation.
When you look at the statistics, you see that there are hundreds of automobile accidents daily across the United States, but only a small percent of these crashes involve fatalities. On the other hand, there are very few aircraft crashes in the United States per year, but when there is a crash, there is usually a fairly large loss of life involved. This is the main reason why nearly every large plane that crashes anywhere makes the front page headline in nearly every newspaper across the world. Then there are automobile accidents. Automobile accidents rarely make anything but local news. The inequality of the news coverage for these two things gives many people a false impression that automobiles are actually safer than planes, even though statistics say that planes are actually the safer of the two.
The fear of crashing is not the only reason why many people choose not to fly, however. There are several reasons why many people would rather drive than fly. Some of these reasons include: flight delays, lost luggage, overcrowded flights, bad food, stale air, uncomfortable seats, and bad customer service. In fact, during the first half of the year in 1999, the Department of Transportation received over 16,000 complaints from passengers. This was over double the amount of complaints for the same part of the year in 1998. Even though some of these were viable complaints, some people don’t think driving the extra hours in an automobile is worth it.
One of the most frequently asked questions after a plane crashes is, “Why?” There are several reasons why airplanes crash. The leading cause of plane crashes is error by the flight crew. This has been the cause of 70% of all airplane crashes since the industry began in 1959. Some other causes of accidents include: mechanical failure causing 11 percent, maintenance was accountable for 7 percent, Air Traffic Control was responsible for 5 percent, weather caused 4 percent, and other problems made up the remaining 4 percent. Professional crash investigators can determine the cause of most airplane crashes by using information from flight recorders, which are also known as Black Boxes. These Black Boxes are located in the tail end of planes and they aren’t really black. The boxes are actually colored bright orange so investigators at a crash site can easily find them. The boxes record crucial flight data and also record voices from within the cockpit of the airplane. If these boxes are recovered from the crash site in good condition, investigators can use the information found within to help them determine what brought the plane down.
The Air Traffic Control system, also known as the ATC, was developed to keep planes from colliding in midair during flight and to prevent as many accidents from happening as possible. There hasn’t been a midair collision between two planes that was caused by an error with the Air Traffic Control since 1990. However, in 1995 alone there were at least 21 other major failures by the ATC and their equipment, which is now nearing 20 years old. These failures were held responsible for countless hours of delays and ended up costing the airlines nearly three billion dollars. Now those older systems that the Air Traffic Control has been using for many years are being replaced by new state of the art computer systems, which should be a great help in cutting down on delays and accidents in the future.
Even though airplane safety has been questioned as of lately, planes are still one of the safest means of transportation, if not the safest. Planes have been proven to have the lowest accident rate per 100,000 rides of all transportation. Planes also have the lowest death rate per 100 million miles of al forms of transportation. It is true that you are more likely to survive an automobile accident than an airplane crash, but it is also true that you are more likely to be in an automobile accident that in a plane crash. In my opinion, and the opinion of many other people, planes are by far the best all around way to travel. They are faster than any other transportation, and I see them as being the safest form of transportation also. Everyone can think what he or she wants to think, but the media has given the airline industry a bad reputation. More people die on highways each year than on all other forms of transportation combined, this fact should alone should be enough evidence to convince people that airplanes really are the quickest, easiest, and safest way to travel.