2017 flight safety record impressive; took years to get it


January 10, 2018

Everyone gripes about air travel. The complaints are universal: bare-it-all security checks; shoving matches over cabin bin space; economy seats increasingly reminiscent of a miniature medieval torture cell maliciously called the “little ease.”

Oh, for those glamorous jet-set days of yesteryear, when fliers were treated like royalty starting at airport curbside. Can modern air travel really be called an improvement?

Yes, in the starkest and most critical terms: You’ll get there in one piece.

Year’s-end reports show 2017 was the safest year for commercial travel in aviation history.

Studies by two separate safety organizations — a team of Dutch aviation consultants and the U.S.-based Aviation Safety Network — reported last week that, out of a record 37 million flights, there were no passenger jet crashes in the world last year. The handful of fatal commercial accidents that did occur were limited to either cargo planes or regional carriers operating small aircraft.

This is no small achievement. Harrowing, high-fatality plane crashes, if not routine, were for decades events that took place every few years. If you have lived in this region long enough, you may recall the crash of a Delta jumbo jet at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1985 during a summer thunderstorm. The disaster claimed 137 lives.

Experts say technology and training have steadily reduced the incidence of these tragedies over the years. The D/FW crash, in fact, led directly to new standards in windshear-detection ability in both onboard and ground-based systems.

At the same time, new safety measures in aircraft construction mean that even in the event of a crash, passengers are more likely to survive. That’s due, among other factors, to better fire suppression and evacuation procedures.

“Cabin safety has improved by leaps and bounds since the 1970s and ’80s,” said Adrian Young, a senior consultant who participated in one of the studies released recently, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Experts caution that there remain safety challenges in commercial aviation, and that there is no room for complacency in the operation of our nation’s — and our planet’s — complex air transit system. Ongoing challenges include risks posed by human fatigue and the fire danger posed by batteries used in consumer electronics.

But when poker-faced aviation officials assure you that the gravest modern danger to commercial air travel is the drive to the airport, they have the statistics to back it up. Passenger flights operated by major carriers are far and away the safest means of popular transportation.

What about that recent presidential Twitter claim, during which the commander-in-chief took credit for last year’s air safety record?

“It’s not a one-year phenomenon,” was the tactful response to The Post from retired pilot and airline safety consultant John Cox. “It was the work of thousands of people over decades.”

— The Dallas Morning News


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