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Despite Kobe’s crash, MIT statistician says it is safer than ever to fly

It’s 10 times safer to fly now than 40 years ago.

Despite Kobe’s crash, MIT statistician says it is safer than ever to fly
[Photo: Sacha Verheij/Unsplash]

MIT statistician Arnold Barnett wants you to know that it’s profoundly safer to fly than ever before. “The risk is so low that being afraid to fly is a little like being afraid to go into the supermarket because the ceiling might collapse,” he says.

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His new study, “Aviation Safety: A Whole New World?” looks at flight safety from 2008 to 2017, and finds that globally, flying today is six times safer than 30 years ago, and 22 times safer than 50 years ago:

1968-1977: 1 death per 350,000 boardings

1978-1987: 1 death per 750,000 boardings

1988-1997: 1 death per 1.3 million boardings

1998-2007: 1 death per 2.7 million boardings

2008-2017: 1 death per 7.9 million boardings

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Where you fly matters: In the United States., European Union, China, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, a mere one passenger dies per 33.1 million passenger boardings. China and Eastern Europe, in particular, have both become much safer in the last decade.

It’s still least safe to fly in some parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where there is one death per as few as 1.2 million boardings; many of those countries have not improved safety in recent years. Barnett points out that the risk of flying there is still about equal to the risk of flying in the United States 40 to 50 years ago.

South America and the Middle East are safer, with one passenger death per 7.4 million boardings.

Barnett studied flight death rates in 10-year periods because flight fatalities vary hugely from year to year. For example, in 2017, just 12 people died in commercial air travel, compared to 473 in 2018, which included commercial crashes in Russia and Cuba and the first Boeing 737 Max crash in Indonesia.

Barnett hopes to quell flight fears. “Anxiety levels have not gone down that much. I think it’s good to have the facts.”

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