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Safest Airliners & Airline Safety

How safe is flying?

Recent stats show that only one flight in 8,000,000 crashes. Still, no matter how safe flying may be statistically, it feels the same emotionally. How can we change how flying feels? How can we stop the high anxiety? And what about panic? Feelings are caused by the release of stress hormones. SOAR trains your mind to not react to flying, to not release stress hormones. High anxiety and panic end when the release of stress hormones is controlled.

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What is the Safest Airliner?

In the past, we rated the safety of various airliners based on crashes that took place. But because of advancements in aircraft design, safety systems, maintenance procedures, and pilot training, there have been few crashes - and in most cases no crashes - in countries where standards are high.

For example, the last fatal crash of a major U.S. airline was in November of 2001. The plane involved is no longer in passenger service. Because the safety of every airliner now in service is so high, it has become impossible to say one plane is safer than another.

NSC Chart - US Civil Aviation

The National Safety Council website state, "Commercial scheduled air travel is among the safest modes of  transportation; the 2019 lifetime odds of dying as an aircraft passenger in the United States were too small to calculate."
Source: https://injuryfacts.nsc.org

Todd Curtis, a former Boeing engineer, runs the website airsafe.com which was intended to show - based on accidents - which airliners are safer. The website can't do that anymore. The problem is simply that crashes due to mechanical problems are rare or non-existent. Todd and I talked over the possibility, in the absence of crashes, of still coming up with recommendations. We discussed whether, based on the design of various airliners, we could speculate as to which are better. That idea got nowhere; all the airliners presently in use are well-designed.

It's interesting to look back at history. I went to work at Pan Am in 1965. Pan Am was flying 707s and DC-8s all over the world, including into areas where aviation was not well-developed. At Pan Am, we were having a crash every year. The slogan, "Pan Am, the world's most experienced airline," was turned into an insider joke as we said, "Pan Am, the world's most experienced airline reports another experience."

At that time, there was a major crash of a domestic U.S. airline every year. Nevertheless, flying was far safer than driving. Since flying was so much safer than driving, we in the aviation industry regarded an occasional crash as inevitable. And, based on the design of these first jet airliners, the training that was possible, and the safety system available, crashes were inevitable at the time.

A major part of the problem was the pilots. During World War II pilots were desperately needed for the war effort. Standards were adjusted to meet the need. Some of these pilots later became airline pilots. They were able to get by flying the slow propeller-driven airliners, but flying the jets was another story. The airlines were stuck with pilots who - by today's standards - were not skillful enough to fly jets.

Those of us who joined the airlines in the 1960s were trained by the military during peacetime. All of our training was in jets. Standards were extremely high. Those of us who left the military and joined the airlines were often frightened by how the WW II vintage pilots flew the planes. To reduce accidents, the airlines instituted a program to make the captains answerable to the copilots. The captains were required to brief the copilots in detail on how they intended to conduct the flight. Unless the copilot was in agreement, the flight could not depart. If the captain deviated from the plan during the flight, the copilot was authorized to intervene.

As the WW II pilots retired, they were replaced by more qualified pilots. Thus, in the late 1970s, something remarkable happened. We had a whole year when no U.S. airline suffered a crash. I thought a whole year without a crash was amazing. But things continued to improve. When Boeing designed the 747, they took engineering standards to a new level. Then, with the arrival of microprocessors, the safety systems built into the planes became far more sophisticated. One new system kept pilots from flying into mountains or into the ground when landing. Another new system prevented mid-air collisions. And the new simulators were so realistic that flying the simulator was exactly like flying the airplane. This meant that in training, pilots could be exposed to the direst emergency situations. If the trainee crashed the simulator, training continued until the emergency situation was mastered.

Now, instead of just one year with no crash, we have gone for almost 20 years in the U.S. without a fatal crash of a major airline! But it gets even better. That plane that crashed 20 years ago was an older design that is no longer in service. All the planes flying now in the U.S. are so well-designed and so well-maintained that none of them has been involved in a fatal crash due to mechanical problems.

So the problem Todd and I have, trying to determine the safest airliner, persists. We just don't have the data because we don't have the crashes. But if none of them are crashing in countries where aviation standards are high, does it matter that we don't know which are safer? How much safer than no crashes do we need to get?

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