Boeing's 777 crash shows how much safer flying is
The tragic San Francisco accident took a remarkably small human toll -- and that's not a fluke.
Indeed, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have determined that pilots from Asiana Airlines were flying too slowly as they prepared to land and didn't have enough time to correct their error. Over the next few months, investigators are going to focus on what went so wrong and how it can be avoided in the future. However, mechanical problems are apparently being ruled out, according to media reports.
Although two people were killed (one of whom may have been run over by an emergency vehicle after the crash) and 182 were injured, it's remarkable that 123 passengers escaped physically unscathed. Psychological trauma, of course, is another issue.
Overall, however, as The Associated Press noted, planes are built better today, with stronger seats that are less likely to move in a crash. Better aircraft electronics also mean planes rarely crash into the sides of mountains or into one another, accidents that tend to be the deadliest ones. Improved crew and flight attendant training is also helping save lives.
An even bigger tragedy was averted in San Francisco because of the design work Boeing has done on the 777. Most of the world's largest airlines use this jetliner for long-haul routes such as those between the U.S. and Europe and Asia. They're big sellers. At the recent Paris Air Show, Qatar Airways announced plans to buy nine 777s, which have a list price of about $2.6 billion (which airlines rarely pay in practice). That will give Qatar 51 of the 777s in its fleet.
"It has a remarkable level of reliability," aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia told the Los Angeles Times. "With its track record, it's as good as it gets when it comes to aircraft design."
Indeed, the previous 777 accident was a British Airways flight in 2008 that crash-landed at London's Heathrow Airport when it lost power after an ice buildup reduced the amount of fuel flowing into the engine. All 152 people aboard that aircraft survived, and Boeing addressed the issue that led to the accident.
All told, commercial aviation is roughly 40 times safer than driving a car. According to NTSB data analyzed by AP, 39% of people involved in plane crashes were killed between 1982 and 2009, an improvement from the 54% who died between 1962 and 1981.
Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.
Any plane in history that landed hard and slid along the ground would have minimal deaths as long as the fuel didn't ignite.
If the plane had crash landed after a nosedive with little loss of life, I would support the notion that planes are safer these days.
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