it’s still safe to fly

Despite terrifying headlines like “2014 could be worst year for plane crash deaths in almost a decade,” it’s quite safe to fly. Operations research has played a role in demonstrating aviation safety over the years. Professor Arnie Barnett at MIT is a leading authority in aviation safety, and he has published several papers on this topic (see references below for four of them). He was recently on Voice of America in a 22 minute segment discussing aviation safety [Link here, HT @Supernetworks]. According to Barnett, flying in the first world was 100 times safer now than in the 1950s. Terrorism may be more of a threat to first world air safety than accidents. Most of Barnett’s papers focus on the safety associated with US domestic trunklines, however, some of his work has noted improvements in international safety.

The developing world is not quite as safe. However, Barnett nicely discusses benefits as well as costs. He points out that many things are not as safe in the developing world (drinking water, medical care, etc.) and that we should look at the entire safety of the trip and weigh that with the potential benefits of travel when making travel decisions. Likewise, there are potential solutions for improving air safety that may be too costly. Given limited budgets for things like (say) security, it generally makes sense to spend the budget on things that have the most impact. Barnett references RAND’s MANPADS study [Link] that concluded that “given the enormous cost of installing anti-missile systems compared with other homeland security measures, researchers suggest that officials explore less costly approaches in the near term while launching efforts to improve and demonstrate the reliability of the systems.”

This week, Arnie Barnett was also on More or Less on BBC Radio [Link]

Have the recent air events changed your willingness to fly domestically or internationally?


ON THE LINE: How Safe Are Our Skies ?

ON THE LINE: How Safe Are Our Skies ?

Barnett, A., Abraham, M., & Schimmel, V. (1979). Airline safety: Some empirical findings. Management Science25(11), 1045-1056.

Barnett, A., & Higgins, M. K. (1989). Airline safety: The last decade.Management Science35(1), 1-21.

Barnett, A. (2000). Free-flight and en route air safety: a first-order analysis.Operations research48(6), 833-845.

Czerwinski, D., & Barnett, A. (2006). Airlines as baseball players: Another approach for evaluating an equal-safety hypothesis. Management science,52(9), 1291-1300.

Air fatalities per year

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