Safety in the Air

October 19, 1984

Report Outline
Record in Recent Years
Deregulation and Delays
Developing Technology
Special Focus

Record in Recent Years

Improvements in All the Safety Categories

Mile for mile, flying is the safest way to travel. The number of people killed every year in auto accidents far outstrips the number killed in airplane accidents. In 1983, 42,500 Americans died on the nation's highways; 1,155 persons lost their lives in plane accidents. Only 12 were killed in accidents involving commercial airliners. The statistics indicate that flying is by far the safest mode of transportation. Yet recent stories of near misses in midair—one of them involving the vice president's plane—raise anew the question of how safe the nation's skies are.

Virtually everyone involved in aviation, including safety experts, agrees that flying in the United States—whether on large commercial airlines, commuter lines, charters or private aircraft—is extraordinarily safe. “These last four or five years have been the safest since the jet age began back in 1958,” said James McCarthy, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association of America, the trade group that represents scheduled airlines. William Fromme, director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Aviation Safety, seconded that assessment: “No matter how you look at the safety records—midair collisions, fatalities, injuries, hull damages, hull losses, dollar losses—you name it and every single criteria of safety has improved and continues to improve.”

Shortage of Experienced Air Controllers

There are some clouds in the safety picture, however. Even the aviation industry's biggest boosters acknowledge that there is a shortage of experienced air traffic controllers. FAA officials and many in the industry admit that the shortages have contributed to lengthy delays at many airports but deny that they affect safety. Paul R. Ignatius, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association, for example, told the Senate Aviation Subcommittee Sept. 7 that the air traffic control system “is insufficient to accommodate the demands placed upon it by the airlines, general aviation, and other users without associated delays.” But, he added, “there is no question that the primary requirement for safety has been met.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Air Transportation
Jan. 18, 2019  Airline Industry Turbulence
May 15, 2015  Airline Safety
Oct. 18, 2013  Domestic Drones
Mar. 07, 2008  Future of the Airlines
Jun. 21, 2002  Future of the Airline Industry
Sep. 24, 1999  Airline Industry Problems
Oct. 08, 1993  Airline Safety
Oct. 24, 1986  Airline Deregulation
Oct. 19, 1984  Safety in the Air
Nov. 26, 1982  Troubled Air Transport Industry
Jun. 25, 1976  Air Safety
Mar. 21, 1975  Air-Fare Control
Jan. 27, 1971  Future of the Airlines
Sep. 10, 1969  Jumbo Jets: New Travel Era
Feb. 22, 1967  Airport Modernization
Mar. 18, 1964  Supersonic Transport Race
Feb. 07, 1962  Troubles of the Airlines
May 11, 1960  Prevention of Air Accidents
Sep. 17, 1958  Safety in the Air
May 23, 1956  Jet Age Problems
May 20, 1953  Safer Flying
Feb. 26, 1947  Air Safety
Jun. 08, 1944  Domestic Air Transportation
Apr. 08, 1944  International Air Transport
Mar. 02, 1939  Transatlantic Air Commerce
Jul. 14, 1927  Commercial Aeronautics
Jun. 20, 1925  Development of Commercial Air Navigation
Air Safety and Security