fbpx

Air Safety Since 1960 

In 1960, U.S. scheduled air carriers made 3.8 million departures, and carried 62 million passengers. That year, there were 90 accidents, 14 of them with fatalities. On average, a fatal accident a month, or one every 321,000 departures. Everybody thought it was safe.

In 1995, U.S. scheduled airlines made 11.4 million departures and carried 580 million passengers. There were four fatal accidents. Only one, the crash in Cali, Columbia, involved a major carrier.

If U.S. commercial aviation had experienced the same accident rate in 1995 that it experienced in 1960, there would have been 268 accidents, 42 with fatalities, or a fatal crash every nine days. This comparison holds if measured in departures, flight hours, or miles flown.

Since 1960, the number of passengers has increased from 62 million to nearly 580 million. Airlines performed three times as many departures in 1995 as in 1960 (11.4 million compared to 3.8 million).

Between 1960 and 1995, aviation safety improved 91 percent. Instead of a fatal accident for every 273 thousand departures, in 1995 there was a fatal accident about one in every 3 million departures.

Air Travel Today: Increased Safety, Lower Fares

Between 1960 and 1995, aviation safety improved 91 percent. Instead of a fatal accident for every 273 thousand departures, in 1995 there was a fatal accident about one in every 3 million departures.

In 1946, a flight on a Lockheed Constellation from LaGuardia to Paris cost about $650, round trip. The flight made two stops and took between 16 and 17 hours each way. (The Constellation could not be certified under today’s safety standards.) In 1995 dollars, the ticket would cost $4,280. But recently (in August 1996), a coach ticket from New York to Paris, round trip, could be purchased for about $550. The flight takes about six hours and is 100 times safer.

Aviation has benefited from five decades of technological progress: Today we have bigger, stronger airplanes; fuel and engine improvements; on-board automation; training and simulation, air traffic control technology; government and industry research, including human factors research.

Those who say air travel is unsafe do not know the facts. Professor Arnold Barnett of MIT uses statistical models to calculate the odds of perishing in a commercial aviation accident:

  • 1967-1976: One in 2 million
  • 1977-1986: One in 7 million
  • 1987-1996: One in 7 million
  • 1990-8/96: One in 8 million

Death risk per flight on scheduled international U.S. flight over the past three decades:

  • 1967-1976: One in 500,000
  • 1977-1986: One in 1.3 million
  • 1987-1996: One in 1.3 million

If a passenger chose one flight at random each day, he/she would, on average, go for 21,000 years before succumbing to a fatal crash.

These statistics put into real perspective the situation for air travel in the United States today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Best comments get a free hardcover copy of Living Sanely in an Insane World. We'll email you for your address if you're selected.