NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fly Reassured

November 2, 1999

Airplane crashes are tragic, certainly, but frequent fliers can assure themselves that they are rare -- as the statistics confirm. More than twice as many people lose their lives in automobile accidents each year than have died in airline crashes in the entire history of air travel.

Analysts note that after each major plane crash, a media hunt begins to identify a scapegoat -- a particular airline, or classes such as commuter airlines or discount carriers.

  • But Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did a study of the safety records of major airlines beginning with the early 1970s and found that the safety records between different carriers were statistically insignificant.
  • Those who question the safety of commuter airlines should understand that their accident rates are almost identical to those of major carriers once Alaskan bush flights, air taxis and helicopters are removed.
  • As for discount carriers, several dozen of them have come into existence in the 18 years since deregulation and, until the ValuJet crash in 1996, have flown billions of miles without a fatality.
  • According to a study in Accident Analysis and Prevention, discount airlines save 190 to 275 lives a year by affording people the option to fly rather than having to drive to their destinations.

Source: Barry Glassner (University of Southern California), "Fear of Flying," Wall Street Journal, November 2, 1999.


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