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Air Travel is Safest Since 1945

Amid Dreamliner woes and mega storms, travelers can find some comfort knowing that air travel is safer now than it’s been in decades.

According to a report from The New York Times, data from the Aviation Safety Network shows that global commercial air travel is safer than it’s been in a very long time—since the dawn of the jet age, in fact. There were 23 deadly plane accidents and 475 deaths in 2012, the lowest such numbers since 1945.

Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at M.I.T., told The Times that the death risk for air passengers over the last five years is one in 45 million flights. Comparatively, your chances of being struck by lightening are one in three million, says the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.

The commercial airline industry’s solid reliability is due, in part, to a change in the way that safety rules and regulations are born. Whereas once it took a major crash to incite new rules or change training protocol, now, regulators proactively tighten up safety procedures. Reports The Times, “The last time a fleet was grounded was 1979, after a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, killing 273 people. The 787s, by contrast, were grounded after two episodes involving smoke from batteries in which no one was hurt and no planes were lost.”

Other factors contributing to airline industry safety include more advanced technology and better communication. For example, in 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created a Web-based system that allows pilots and airlines to discuss issues with safety, without fear of censure. Modern advanced navigation technologies allow pilots to avoid turbulent weather conditions and have made mid-air collisions a rarity. Plus, airlines and regulators continue to analyze data from flight recorders, identifying and addressing causes of airline accidents.

However, Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III—the heroic pilot who executed the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549—doesn’t think this news is cause to breath easy. Sullenberger told The Times, “It’s important not to define safety as the absence of accidents. When we’ve been through a very safe period, it is easy to think it’s because we are doing everything right. But it may be that we are doing some things right, but not everything. We can’t relax.”

Still, given rising ticket prices and the worsening of economy-class conditions, the airline industry’s historic safety achievements are something to savor. The overhead bins might be full, the snacks might be expensive, and your knees might be in your face, but at least you’ll make it there alive.

As a traveler, do you feel safer after reading this? Share your reaction in the comments.

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