The next time you’re on a flight, take a look around you. Whether you realize it or not, you’re in one of the safest pieces of technology the world has ever seen. It’s filled with more safety features than you can count – including some that you don’t even realize are present.
There are hundreds of thousands of flights around the world every single day. Billions of people fly commercial airlines annually. Yet air travel, for all of the high speeds and altitudes, is far safer than cars, trains, bikes, boats, or any other mode of transport.
In 2017 – the safest year on record for air travel – there wasn’t a single accidental death recorded on a commercial passenger jet. And while this made it the safest year in aviation history, it wasn’t exactly an outlier year.
Over the past couple of decades, aviation deaths have experienced a steep decline. As recently as 2005, there were more than 1,000 deaths aboard flights. But in recent years, the average total has hovered between 400 and 800 deaths (with almost all of these deaths occurring in general aviation accidents – not commercial passenger airlines). This decline has occurred in conjunction with increases in the number of flights and passengers. As such, the relative risk has been dramatically reduced in the past decade.
But what is it that makes air travel so safe? Advances in training and security protocols certainly play a role, but so do the technology and safety features that are built into the commercial airplanes. Let’s explore some of these features to get a better idea for why things have improved so dramatically in recent years.
- Shielded Wiring
Use the term “grounded” in the context of airplanes and most people roll their eyes and let out a sigh. There’s nothing more frustrating than being grounded as the result of a flight delay. But sometimes being grounded is a good thing – particularly when it comes to the wiring of an aircraft’s critical systems.
In today’s commercial airplanes, flight-critical systems like flight controls and electronic engine components are protected from lightning strikes and extremes of pressure in shielded enclosures that are grounded to the aircraft. They also receive regular loop resistance testing to ensure they’re safe from flight to flight.
- Tiny Holes in Plane Windows
Have you ever noticed those tiny holes in plane windows? Well, they aren’t there by accident. These little holes are actually part of a complex design that helps the aircraft withstand the changing air pressure outside.
Each airplane window is made up of three different acrylic layers. Only the middle layer contains a hole. The hole regulates the pressure and makes the flight much more comfortable for passengers.
- Wing Hooks
If you’ve ever had a window seat near the plane’s wing, then you’ve probably noticed tiny yellow hooks on the wing. These hooks are actually used to help the airplane crew secure and tether life rafts to the plane in case of an emergency landing on water. Passengers walk across the wing using ropes and get in the life rafts.
- Ash Trays in Toilets
By now, everyone knows that there’s no smoking allowed on commercial airplanes. There are enough signs and warnings to make this clear. However, people don’t always listen.
In addition to having smoke detectors in bathrooms, there are also ashtrays. While they don’t want to encourage smoking, airlines also want to be sure passengers have a safe method of disposal if they happen to break the law.
- Ultrasound Inspections
The wings of a plane undergo a lot of pressure, friction, and wear over the years. And while they’re designed to endure significant amounts of stress, there are limits. Wing skin is installed on wings and held into place with fasteners. In order to look for holes and cracking, maintenance crews inspect the areas around the fasteners with ultrasound equipment that identifies weak spots. This makes it far less likely that a problem will go undetected.
- Enhanced GPS Technology
In the last decade alone, GPS technology has made positive strides. Pilots and air traffic controllers now have far greater visibility into the exact positioning and flight paths of aircraft. This makes collisions nearly non-existent.
Safer Than You’ll Ever Know
Name something totally unlikely to happen in your life and you’re far more likely to experience it than an airplane crash. Whether it’s being born with an extra finger or toe, getting murdered in the Grand Canyon, or winning an Olympic gold medal, you’re far less likely to experience one of these incidents than you are to be involved in a deadly plane crash. This is due in large part to the increases in safety features – such as the ones highlighted in this article.
So next time you find yourself killing time on a flight, take a look around. You’re safer than you’ll ever realize.