The first commercial airplane flight took off in 1914 and airplane travel has only grown ever more popular since that time. In fact, over the past 100 plus years, air travel has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, with commercial airline carriers in the U.S. earning a net income of more than $5 billion in the first three financial quarters of 2013 alone.
Each year, more than 2 billion people fly on commercial airlines, and on every holiday break, airports are full of travelers.
The Reality of Airplane Accidents
With billions of people flying in commercial jets each year, accidents are bound to happen, and people end up injured because of these airplane accidents. An accident related to flying can be caused by a number of problems, from a bird flying into a propeller to carry-on luggage falling out of an overhead compartment. Even severe turbulence can put a seated passenger in the hospital for spinal injury, a concussion, or other kind of personal injury.
Here are some informative statistics concerning airplane accidents:
- Nearly 80% of all plane crashes happen in the first 3 minutes after takeoff and the last 8 minutes of the plane’s descent;
- An airplane passenger has a 1 in 29.4 million chance of being killed while on that flight. This suggests that planes are, in fact, incredibly safe;
- Pilot error is the leading cause of all fatal airplane accidents as it is the cause of 54% of them;
- There were 40 accidents involving large commercial passenger planes in 2020, five of which were fatal, resulting in 299 deaths;
- Forty-three per cent of all airplane accidents were related to the safety condition of the runway;
- One hundred and forty-seven passengers sustained an injury caused by turbulence between 2009 and 2011;
- According to a recent study of the issue, an estimated 4,500 people are injured every year because of falling luggage on airplanes. These bags fall out of overhead luggage bins, because they shift during a flight into dangerous positions, or because overhead bins are loaded beyond their capacity.
As common carriers, airlines are responsible for ensuring that passengers are safe on every flight and that they do not suffer preventable injuries, such as injuries related to crashes caused by pilot error. Also, commercial airlines may be at least partly legally liable for injuries caused by defects in an airplane itself, whether it is a manufacturing defect or a design flaw in an aircraft. In the case of a defective airplane, of course, the manufacturer can also be liable for injuries due to accidents caused by defects.
However, airlines are usually found not liable for accidents that are unforeseeable, such as the 9/11 airplane hijackings and violent passengers.
Are Small Planes More Dangerous Than Larger Planes?
The statistics show that small planes are involved in more accidents, and have a higher number of fatalities per the number of hours flown, than large planes. It is clear that small planes crash more often than larger planes, and are more dangerous in this regard.
The year 2017 was the safest year on record for air travel. There was not one fatality due to the crash of a large commercial passenger jet. However in the general aviation category, which is where smaller aircraft are categorized, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) received reports of 1,316 accidents and 346 deaths. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) logged a total of 21.7 million flight hours, while the fatal accident rate was 0.931 per 100,000 hours of flight time. However, commercial airlines in the U.S. flew 19 million hours without even one fatality. So all of the fatalities recorded in 2017 happened in connection with crashes of small planes.
Aviation experts believe that there are five reasons for which small planes are more dangerous than larger planes as follows:
- Pilot Error: Most small planes are flown by pilots who have private pilot licenses. These allow them to carry as many passengers as the aircraft they fly is legally allowed to carry. To qualify for a private pilot license, a person must log 35 to 40 flight hours.
- Both a recreational pilot license and a sport pilot license allow the plane the pilot flies to carry one passenger. These licenses require a minimum of 30 flight hours and 20 flight hours respectively.
- On the other hand, a person who wants a commercial pilot license must complete at least 190 to 250 flight hours. An airline transport pilot license requires logging a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. So it is clear why inexperience is one of the leading causes of aviation accidents involving small planes. The pilots of small planes are likely to be less experienced than the pilots of large, commercial jets.
- Some kinds of licenses may be restricted and this depends in part on whether an instrument rating has been acquired by the license holder. Restrictions include not flying at night or when visibility is low because of other conditions, such as cloudiness. These restrictions probably reduce the number of accidents, but it does not eliminate most of them.
- Redundancies: Larger planes of the type that commercial airlines fly are more complex than small planes. They have redundant systems built in to protect against every kind of problem from electrical faults to lighting strikes.
- In fact, some of the more advanced planes even feature three flight computers. Each one functions independently from the others, with each containing three three different processors manufactured by different companies. Larger planes also have more advanced safety systems such as traffic advisory and avoidance systems;
- Wake Turbulence: Wake turbulence is the turbulence that forms behind an aircraft as it moves through the air, causing wingtip vortices. All aircraft are designed to be able to withstand most turbulence, but smaller planes are more susceptible to difficulties caused by wake turbulence. During the takeoff, climbing, following, approaching and landing phases of a flight, a smaller plane can get caught up in and be affected by this turbulence. In certain cases, it can cause a total loss of control of an aircraft;
- Weather: Larger planes usually have no problem escaping or powering through adverse weather conditions due to their size and more powerful engines, or simply by climbing above it. Lighter, smaller planes, however, do not have the same powerful and expensive jet engines, and are unable to climb in the same way as larger planes;
- Wildlife Strikes: According to the FAA, in the U.S. between 1990 and 2019, there were about 227,000 wildlife strikes involving civil aircraft. Most of these strikes happened at lower altitudes, which is the airspace in which small planes operate.
At altitudes of 20,00 to 31,000 feet, which is where large, commercial planes operate, there have been only 29 wildlife strikes. While there have been a number of accidents with human injuries and fatalities over the years, the good news is that the risk is still considered low. In fact, there have been only 292 fatalities between 1988 and 2019.
Are Small Planes More Dangerous Than Cars?
It is important to remember that small planes are still far safer than cars. The National Safety Council reports that a person’s chances of dying in a car crash as a driver are 1 in 114 and as a passenger, 1 in 654. But a person’s chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 9,821. This means that a person has a far lower chance of dying in a plane than in a car. So, planes are still much safer than cars.
Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Have Been Injured in an Airplane Accident?
Although flying is statistically the safest way to travel, airplane accidents happen with enough frequency that nearly a quarter of the American population experiences at least some nervousness with regard to flying.
If you have been injured as a result of flying, you should consult a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to see about protecting your rights with regard to pursuing compensation for your injuries.