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Opinion: Why It’s Important to Look at Aviation from a Big Picture Perspective

Southwest 737 aircraft at SFO (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Let’s face it; the vast majority of people don’t enjoy flying. From tight seats to surprising fees, the whole experience of hopping on an airplane can prove to be tedious. Despite this, there are several common denominators that make aviation one of the most integral and prosperous industries of our time.

In a little more than a century, aviation has changed the way the world works. In the Wright Brothers’ days, the only means to get to Europe from the U.S. would be a voyage lasting about six weeks. Today, a trip from New York to London takes roughly six hours. Moreover, a trip from Los Angeles to London, unheard of in those days, takes about ten hours. The global economy relies on the aviation industry’s timeliness and efficiency. Without it, much of the globe would be dormant.

Take a moment to step back and picture our world without the airplane. The lack of aviation, even for a single day, would be like taking a step back in time. Time-sensitive shipments would be left sitting, people wouldn’t be able to travel for urgent personal or business needs, and life-saving materials would not be able to reach the people who need them most. Those are just a few examples.

The fact of the matter is that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the airplane. We need aviation to work, however, in a safe manner in order for it to prove effective. During the dawn of aviation in the early 1900s, arriving at your destination was no sure thing. Pilots flew with rudimentary training, air traffic control was virtually non-existent, and aircraft maintenance standards were mediocre at best. Like many aspects of aviation, these have slowly evolved over time, creating an environment that is safer than ever before.

You’re more likely to be bitten by a shark or struck by lightning twice in your life than be involved in an aircraft accident. Flying is far safer than driving and arguably safer than walking.

In 2017, no commercial passenger jet crashed anywhere in the world, according to an annual safety report by Dutch-based aviation consultancy firm, To70. The report found only two fatal accidents that both involved smaller turboprop-powered aircraft, killing 13 in total. As of 2017, the odds of being in a plane crash is one in 16 million.

“The past year has been another exceptionally good year for civil aviation safety. With only two fatal accidents to passenger airliners, both involving small turbo-prop planes, 2017 was much better than could reasonably (and statistically) be expected, and was again better than last year’s remarkable performance,” Adrian Young, a representative for the consultancy firm said.

Though this is a positive trend, civil aviation is still being met with plenty of risks due to newer technologies, human factors, crew fatigue, and an uptick in the use of lithium-ion batteries.

“Despite the good news, a note of caution needs to be sounded. Whilst the safety levels of modern civil passenger airplanes remain high, the extraordinarily low accident rate this year must be seen as a case of good fortune. Statistically speaking, in a dataset that starts with over thirty million flights, there is little difference between two accidents and ten accidents. That this year’s accidents only resulted in 13 fatalities is even greater fortune,” Young continued.

“There is no room for complacency. Civil aviation, whilst an industry with a very high level of safety, does still carry very large risks,” he added.

These stats from 2017 are a telling sign of a positive trend for aviation safety. Fatal airplane crashes relating to commercial aviation are down. No other mode of transportation can tout this safety record or even come close to matching it.

Who deserves credit for this trend? It starts with the 62.7 million people who work in the aviation sector around the globe. From flight crews to dispatchers and maintenance techs to air traffic controllers, these people deserve credit. Better all-around training is one factor that has led to this trend. While politicians will often take credit for aviation safety, it doesn’t start at a political level, but rather a level that includes sufficient training to ensure each flight departs and arrives in a safe and efficient manner.

Aviation safety and the global economy go hand in hand. Safe and responsible aircraft operation allows for goods to arrive on time and passengers reaching their destination safely. Safety is at the foundation of the airplane’s existence.

From a commercial aviation perspective, safety isn’t always convenient for the passenger. That weather delay, while pesky, are ultimately for our safety. The same goes for aircraft maintenance issues. Sometimes they can be small, but no risk should ever be taken when hundreds of lives are at stake.

Of the near 3.7 billion people who flew in 2016, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, how many took a step back to realize what they are doing? Cruising in a metal tube miles above the earth, reaching their destination faster than ever before. Aviation today seamlessly connects different cultures, dialects, and walks of life, all while supporting the global economy. Civil aviation as a whole is traversing new boundaries and connecting distant places that were left virtually untouched for decades.

In October, Singapore Airlines will relaunch the world’s longest flight between Newark and Singapore, which is yet another tell-tail sign of just how far aviation has come. Aircraft, such as the Airbus A350XWB, which operates the Singapore route, with better range capabilities are becoming more popular in global airline fleets, allowing people to see the world in a whole different light.

It’s easy to make a joke out of the aviation industry, as so many people do. But it’s criticality to our global society is no joke. We wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as we are today as a population without the airplane and the industry as a whole. Calling aviation a modern marvel is an understatement; it’s a modern cornerstone.

This story was published on National Aviation Day.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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