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Is Flying Safer Than Driving?

The question is often asked, “Is flying safer than driving?

The question is often asked, “Is flying safer than driving?  In the media, it was said that Kobe Bryant could have drove two to three hours instead of flying and would be alive today.  But is driving truly safer?  There are statistics that provide an answer to this question.

If you consider the absolute numbers, one would arrive at the conclusion that driving is more dangerous than flying.  The International Air Transport Association reported that there was just one major aviation crash for every 7.7 million flights in 2021. The overall fatality risk is 0.23 meaning that on average, a person would need to take a flight every day for 10,078 years to be involved in an accident with at least one fatality. Whereas the odds of dying in a car crash are approximately 1 in 107 in 2019 the last year data is available.

While these statistics seem convincing, several things must be considered.  First, most air travel making up these statistics falls under flights governed by 14 CFR Part 121.  These are commercial air carriers.  Commercial airlines are heavily regulated by federal law.  Most importantly, commercial airlines have strict standards for maintenance of aircraft, inspection, and pilot training.  Given these strict standards, you seldom hear of major airlines crashing.  Therefore, the majority of flights making up these flight safety statistics involve heavily regulated aircraft and flights.

What the air travel safety statistics do not highlight is that the majority of deaths that occur from aviation crashes result with aircraft that are governed by 14 CFR Part 91 (General Aviation), 14 CFR Part 125 (20 or more capacity aircraft) and 14 CFR Part 135 (commuter, air taxi, charter and on demand aircraft).  They rarely involve commercial aircraft that are governed by Part 121.  In fact, the cases you have heard about in the new lately, including Kobe Bryant’s crash and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crash, fell under Part 135 and Part 91 respectively.  Kobe Bryant’s was utilizing a charter operation aircraft under Part 135.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s was utilizing a privately owned aircraft that fell under Part 91.  In both cases, the flights were less regulated than commercial flights.

It is important to understand that charter aircraft and privately owned aircraft are not as heavily regulated as commercial aircraft.  As such, if you hire a charter operation for a flight or if you have a friend who uses his or her plane to fly you somewhere, the requirements for pilot training, pilot retraining, maintenance and inspection of the aircraft are far lower than when you fly commercial.  This may explain why most plane crashes are not commercial aircraft, even though commercial aircraft make up most of the flights yearly in the United States.

In conclusion, if you want to avoid the most risk when flying, fly commercial.  It is statistically safer than driving.  If you are okay with a bit more risk, take a charter.  For the most risk, take a flight on your friend’s private aircraft.  Unfortunately, despite your taste for risk, whether you use a motor vehicle or an aircraft, accidents will occur.  If you or a loved one has been involved in an aviation crash or motor vehicle crash, contact the attorneys at Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC who have experience in handling these cases.




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