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Past decade has been safest for airline passengers
Question of the Day
— Luck. Safety experts discount the effect of chance. However, it takes just one big accident — especially now with mega-jets such as the Airbus A380, which is able to carry up to 853 passengers — to ruin an otherwise good period for safety.
“Was Chesley Sullenberger lucky or skillful?” says Perry Flint, a spokesman with the International Air Transport Association. “It was luck that it was daylight, but how many geese do you know that are flying south in the pitch black of two in the morning? So it was also luck that he hit them. Bad luck.”
The most recent fatal U.S. crash was Colgan Air Flight 3407, a regional flight operating under the name Continental Connection. The 2009 crash killed all 49 people on board and a man in the house the plane hit.
In fact, all fatal crashes in the U.S. in the past decade occurred on regional airlines, which are separate companies flying smaller planes under brands such as United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection. The most recent deadly crash involving a larger airline was American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001. It crashed moments after taking off from New York, killing 265.
There have been some near misses.
In April, a Southwest Airlines aircraft had a rapid loss of cabin pressure after part of the fuselage ruptured, leaving a five-foot-long hole in the ceiling. There were no serious injuries.
The prior year, a Southwest jet came within 200 feet of colliding with a small Cessna at a California airport. In December 2009, an American Airlines jet landing in the rain in Jamaica was unable to stop on the runway, crashing through an airport fence, crossing a street, finally stopping on a beach. And in December 2005, a Southwest jet skidded off a Chicago runway. No passengers died, but a 9-year-old boy riding in a passing car was killed.
A poor economy might also have improved safety.
Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, says that during a boom period, airlines tend to quickly grow. That, he says, can mean weaker standards for safety and for pilots.
“We tend to see people being pushed forward perhaps a little too early, before they’re ready,” Voss says. “There’s not as much time for captains to create new captains by tapping a guy on the shoulder and telling him when he’s out of line.”
Freed reported from Minneapolis.
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