How safe is your airline?
When it comes to aviation safety, all airlines are not created equal. You can’t fly the plane, but you can arm yourself with information to help you decide who to fly with.
Little by little, the pieces already are falling into place on the events that led up to last weekend’s crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco.
From Asiana, we learn that the guy at the controls was a veteran pilot but inexperienced with the Boeing 777 and was making his first landing attempt at SFO. For him, in effect, this was a training flight.
From the National Transportation Safety Board, we learn this:
And from mainstream media, we learn that the Boeing 777 overall has a solid safety record. Asiana…not so much.
The investigators have been on the ground only two days, so there’s a lot we don’t know yet, and it may be a year or more before we have the answers.
Meanwhile, you may need to fly somewhere.
First, a little perspective. I flew commercially for the first time in 1964. When an airliner went down back then, it tended to take everyone on board with it.
Now, consider the Asiana crash. A jumbo jet rips off its tail on landing, slams the rest of its 700,000-pound bulk full-force into the ground…and all but two of the 309 souls on board are still alive the next day?
Trust me, that would not have been the case in 1964, at San Francisco or anywhere else. Everything about airline safety — from the design and construction of the planes to flight training, airport readiness and the skill of emergency services — is light years ahead of where it was back then.
Still, if the thought of boarding an airliner makes your knees go silly, you do have some recourse to protect yourself. You may not be able to fly the airplane, but you can take an airline’s safety record into account when booking your flight.
Airlines don’t talk much about their safety records. Actually, they don’t talk publicly about them at all. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t find out.
Here are some online resources for checking US airlines and air accidents in this country:
Checking foreign airlines takes a little more work and is a bit more time-consuming, but you can still do it.
The International Air Transport Association does operational safety audits on its 240 member airlines around the world, and will make that information public. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, they make you work for it. If you want safety audit data on a specific overseas air carrier, you have to:
The European Union’s maintains a list of airlines banned from flying to EU countries, a PDF file that anyone can access, instantly.
Currently, nearly all the airlines listed are relatively small carriers from Africa (Afghanistan and Venezuela being the major exceptions), which you may not find it too useful.
Still it’s comforting to know that it’s there and that the EU keeps tabs on such things.
Armed with the information available to you online, you can decide for yourself which airline you feel comforting flying with.