Reports in the media recently of problems with Boeing’s new flagship Dreamliner aircraft come not too long after problems with Airbus’ own flagship plane, the A380. Travellers on the planes that exhibited problems may not feel quite so lucky, although no one was injured or killed when the problems surfaced, but those who will one day fly on such planes must be grateful that the problems have been identified so soon.
Many people say they have a fear of flying but it’s more a fear of crashing that’s the problem and if you look down on an aircraft from above, perhaps whilst walking the concourses to board your plane, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘How on earth can that huge and heavy piece of metal and plastic stay in the air, supported by what seems to be tiny wings, let alone get off the ground?’
Well, as everyone knows, they do manage it and manage it very safely. The fearful among you might be relieved to hear that deaths per billion miles travelled is the lowest for aircraft and the statistics are sixty times lower than deaths per billion miles driven in a car. Motorcyclists who are scared of flying need to put into perspective that they are two thousand times more likely to die on their bikes than they are in an aircraft.
So what are the main causes of loss of life in an aircraft? The main cause seems to be mechanical problems such as those which have grounded Dreamliners and A380s in the last year. Extensive onboard, inflight checks mean that often the risk of such problems occurring is minimised through early detection but some problems can’t be forecast and along with pilot error, these are the main causes of crashes. But even pilot error is minimised these days by computer aided controls and second checks by co-pilots.
In the event of a problem what are your chances of escaping unharmed? Recently statistics were compiled to find out where the best place to sit in a plane is in order to survive a problem. Whilst not absolutely clear cut, the best seats seem to be the aisle seats towards the tail of the plane and preferably near an emergency exit. This makes sense as, if the plane is moving forward, the bit that hits the ground first is going to be the front. Complications arise when a plane does a belly flop onto the sea or the ground for this often results in great strain being placed on the tail section causing it to break off. If there’s smoke in the cabin, this often moves backwards in the plane, concentrating at the rear. So if you want the seats that mean you can get off the plane first, you’re sacrificing a little bit of personal safety for it!
Finally, a sobering thought for all those keen to maximise your survival rate in the event of a problem: Recent research has shown that the emergency procedures which you are asked to watch very carefully, even if you’re a regular flyer, are on the whole, pointless. The research goes on to say that in the kind of emergency where the procedures are relevant, the chances of being able to put them into practice are minimal.
So, if you’re worried about flying, our best advice to you is to remember that it’s still safer to fly than to travel by any other means of transport.