Mar 12, 2019

Air travel has grown safer, data shows, contradicting Trump

Commercial air travel has grown safer over the last 50 years, according to readily available public data, contradicting President Trump's tweet this morning suggesting that technology has made air travel more dangerous.

Data: Aviation Safety Network, World Bank; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios
Data: Aviation Safety Network, World Bank; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Background: Trump's tweet came two days after an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. Though the cause of the crash is not yet known, the president tweeted that "airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly."

  • Acknowledging that flying a plane has become "highly complex," Frank Jackman, a spokesman for the Flight Safety Foundation, cautioned against the suggestion that planes have become too complex.
  • "Is it too complex to fly?" Jackman said.
  • "Four billion people flew last year, the vast majority of them safely."

By the numbers: In 1970, 1,474 people died in plane accidents. By 2017, the figure had dropped to 59, even as the number of passengers increased nearly 13-fold.

"There's no question that aviation has become safer," said Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association. "There are just a lot of reasons, but underlying it certainly is technology."

  • Technologies like ground proximity warning systems, auto pilots, advanced weather radar, wind shear alert systems and other avionics have afforded more safety.
  • Other factors, like improved pilot training, industry cooperation and engineering advancements, have also contributed.
Go deeper