I was watching CNN today about the terrible tragedy of flight 9525, where co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed a plane into the Alps, killing all 150 people on board. First off, this is an awful story. It’s one that evokes sadness, frustration, anger and vivid mental imagery. I can see and hear the captain trying to get into the cockpit to save the day. But it’s all futile.
But every time a tragedy like this strikes, the cable news channels roll out the “experts” who will tell us “if only pilots were paid more” or “if only pilots had a mental health evaluation before every flight” or “if only cockpits were all redesigned with toilets in them” or blah blah blah. Maybe we can solve every potential problem of flight and give everyone a 100% guarantee of survival. In fact implementing every “solution” will make flying so expensive that we’ll never have a plane crash again! Fantastic!
Here’s a piece from USA Today on the dangers of car vs. flight travel. In an average lifetime, you have a 1/98 chance of dying in a car accident. For flying your chances are 1/7,178. Arnold Barnett, a statistics professor at M.I.T., has been widely quoted as saying a person could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before dying in a plane crash.
The problem of airplane safety is mainly a problem of perception. We see the news on airplane crashes splashed all over the news, so we assume the need to invest a lot to prevent them in any way possible. But why should we invest so poorly in saving so few lives one way when, in other areas a lot less investment could safe so many lives? It’s a question we don’t hear often enough on our news channels.