2011: The Safest Year in Air Travel

It is good to know when booking cheap tickets that airlines are still a remarkably safe mode of transport. Even better news is that 2011 was the best year ever for airline safety in the United States.

Globally, there were 401 fatalities on charter and commercial aircraft in 2011, as compared to 726 fatalities in 2010, so the trend toward safer air travel extends beyond the U.S. borders.

Consider that the world’s airlines carried around 2.9 billion passengers in 2011. The airline fatality rate for 2011 was one for every 7.1 million passengers flown. Worldwide, there were 401 airline fatalities in 2011, a year when an estimated 825,780,600 miles were flown by U.S. airlines domestically and internationally. None of the 2011 fatalities occurred on U.S. commercial airlines. In fact, the last fatal crash in the United States was the crash of a Continental commuter plane in Buffalo in February 2009, killing 49 people on board plus one person on the ground.

Reasons for the improved safety stats include:

  • Better aircraft avionics
  • Better crew training
  • Better reporting of potential dangers by pilots

Is Flying Your Safest Option?
So how do other modes of transport in the U.S. compare?

In 2008, there were 37,261 driving fatalities in the U.S. While this was down from the 2007 figure of 41,259, that still averages out to just over 99 road fatalities per day. As for bus travel in the U.S., there were approximately 13 passenger fatalities on cross-country buses in 2008. Buses are also a very safe mode of ground travel, but most people prefer driving or flying.

How do you compare road fatalities to airline fatalities? Suppose 100 people wanted to travel 3,000 miles. One plane could accommodate all 100 of them, yet assuming a two-person average per car, it would require 50 cars. The 3,000 plane miles it would take to fly 100 people cross-country compares to 150,000 car miles. So for 100 passengers, exposure to potential accidents is 50 times higher per person traveling by car. Cars may result in fewer deaths per mile, but there are far more total driving deaths because far more miles are driven in the U.S. than flown.

As for trains, the first 10 months of 2011 had 214 highway-rail fatalities, which include incidents between trains and cars or pedestrians at crossings. Passenger train accidents for that same time period were 5.59 percent of total train accidents, and there were five passenger deaths in that period. Trains are amazingly safe for passengers in the United States, but the rail network isn’t as dense as the airline network.

There is no question that all things considered, flying is the safest way to travel, and it is getting safer every day.


Published: January 31, 2012