Germanwings Flight 4U9525: Air travel is getting safer

Billy Ehrenberg
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Rescuers leave from a field where the rescue effort is headquartered on March 24, 2015

After the tragic loss of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 this Tuesday, air travel has again been thrust into the news. The plane went down over a remote part of the French Alps, and no survivors are expected to be found. The largest piece of wreckage that could be found was apparently the size of a car.

Such incidents grab the attention of the public, not least because of the large number of people involved. But is flying really dangerous? The available data suggests not. It is worth pointing out, this is the first accident involving a German Wings (the budget arm of German state airline Lufthansa).

The numbers of both crashes and fatalities have been following a largely downward trend, as these two charts show. Data for the first two charts is from the Flight Safety Foundation.

However, it’s impossible to get a truly accurate picture this way: the number of flights and the number of people flying has changed dramatically between 1946 when the chart starts and today.

So what we’d really need would be a comparison of deaths compared to the number of flights over time. Unfortunately the data from IATA doesn’t go back to 1946, but we can see that over the last six years alone, air travel is getting safer. These figures are from the International Air Transport Association, and list fewer crashes and casualties. This is because the first figures are more liberal in what they include as an accident.

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