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Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:36 am

Taking people on a flight in C172, they asked me whether flying was riskier than driving. I kind of remember from a "FLYING" article that risks to die in a piston engine plane was 8 times that of dying in a car for the same number of miles. Does anyone know the exact stats?


Just to be clear, I'm talking small airplanes here, not airliners.

[Edited 2004-04-20 02:54:38]
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:42 am

I don't think those statistics are correct at all. If you think about it, all kinds of flying are alot more intense on safety than driving. No one ever 'preflights' their car, and you dont have a radio system to help regulate traffic driving. Think about all the little things you do during a prefilght. Does anyone check their oil and fuel mixture every time before driving? Reckless flyers are also less of a risk because it is easier to separate yourself from them. Pilots are also generally more careful than drivers just because they invested alot more time and money into their pilot's license than they did in their driver's license.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:48 am

No way. Sure you weren't dreamin'?

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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:48 am

The figure I saw when I did a research paper was you are 62 times more likely to be killed driving to the airport that you are to be killed in a plane crash. Although, keep in mind this is for airlines, not GA. GA might have a slightly smaller margin.

"It starts when you're always afraid; You step out of line, the man come and take you away" -Buffalo Springfield
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:53 am

Well, points taken but I still think flying is more risky, the main difference being that if you have a mechanical failure, it's a bigger problem in the air than on a road where you can stop anywhere. Separation is less of a problem for airplane that's true but if two airplanes collide, it is very likely that it will be the end of it whereas in a car 99% of the time, you only need to pay an insurance premium.

Most of all. I think it is the weather that makes the biggest difference. A lot of accidents are due to VFR pilots taking chances.

Anyway we can argue forever but there must be stats somewhere. Anyone?
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 10:02 am

Ok, I've stopped being lazy and found this on the net:

How dangerous is flying? There are 16 fatal accidents per million hours of general aviation. It is fairly safe to assume that when a plane crashes and someone dies, everyone on board dies. By contrast, the death rate for automobile driving is roughly 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles. Car crashes don't always kill everyone in the car so let's use this statistic as provided, which is for an individual traveling in a car rather than for the entire car. So considering that the average airplane accomplishes a groundspeed of at least 100 miles per hour, those million hours of flight push the occupants of the plane over more than 100 million miles of terrain. Comparing 16 fatal accidents to the 1.7 rate for driving, we find that flying is no more than 10 times as dangerous per mile of travel. And since most accidents happen on takeoff or landing, a modern fast light airplane traveling a longish distance might be comparable in safety to a car.

By Philip Greenspun at http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/safety
(whoever that is, I don't think he is making things up)
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 10:02 am

A380900--as pilots we are trained on how to handle mechanical failure. I have heard lots of people say that if the engine quits, you drop like a rock. Not true. You find a suitable landing site, such as a farm, field, road, or if you're lucky enough, the airport, and glide down. When you are in IMC, it is more risky, but VFR is usually not a huge problem if you know what you are doing and do it right. Also, cars aren't required to have 100 hour and annual inspections. Aircraft maintenance is very regulated and must meet certain standards.
"It starts when you're always afraid; You step out of line, the man come and take you away" -Buffalo Springfield
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 10:06 am

Express-nice post

A380900-risky only if you're flying the plane  Big grin

No seriously. So much goes into the pre-flight of any GA aircraft, you really can't go wrong. I know every time I fly a C-172 in a lesson, I spend at least 25 minutes total checking it over, from the amount of fuel, oil, dents, anything you could imagine, and that's before I even get in. I do a standard checklist right before I takeoff to make sure the controls are free and correct, the instruments work properly, my fuel is good, my radios are set, and my engine performs good:

C. Controls
I. Instruments
G. Gas
A. Avionics
R. Run-Up

If anything goes wrong in flight, it's probably my fault. I would never say GA flying is any more dangerous than driving. I'd be the first to tell you it's safer.
I'd rather be flying (real original)
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 10:10 am

I read somewhere (can't remember) that flying GA is equally as dangerous as riding a motorcycle. In other words, it's slightly more dangerous than driving. Flying the airlines is much safer than driving.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 10:18 am

I came across a powerpoint by an association of flight instructors saying that on per-mile basis, small airplane is 5 times more dangerous (lethal) than car.

And car is 23 times more dangerous than airline carriers. Rougly 100 times more dangerous to fly one mile in an airliner than on a piston cessna.

Of course airliners have a big advantage in capacity and speed . I assume it would be a little different on a "per flight" basis.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 1:53 pm

I think it's next to impossible to come up with a single statistic which indicates how safe flying in a small plane is. There are just so many factors involved: such as how the airplane is used, the experience level and proficiency of the pilot, and generally how careful the pilot is. Each pilot can individually control the risk factors affecting the safety of the flight. For example, a 100 hr pilot who flies lots of single-engine serious IFR at night in the mountains in shady aircraft is a hellova lot more dangerous than the fair-weather 5000 hr pilot who carefully maintains his aircraft and flies in the daytime around familiar airports. Is the plane used for banner towing, or for flight instruction, or for police patrols, or for transportation of corporate executives? I think you can see wide-ranging degrees of safety.
Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 2:11 pm

All statistics can be misleading. You can come up with statistics that prove whatever your agenda might be.

I have no fear of flying. But what I take into account is survivablility. I would much rather be in a car crash than a plane crash. Even if the load forces (G's) were the same, a car is a far more survivable environment, especially compared to the old Cessna's and Pipers. The seats are better designed in cars, along with seat belts, airbags, crumple zones, safety cages. GA is far behind automakers in this regard. Although the new Cessna's are considerably better than the old 70's models I've flown.

Here's a statistic to look up: What are the ratios of fatal accidents to accidents resulting in only serious injuries between automobile and GA accidents. Disregard all accidents resulting in minor or no injuries. Then you should have a fair statistic.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 2:16 pm

KAUSpilot, I remember reading the exact same thing. Come to think of it, I think I might have read it somewhere on these boards. If I recall correctly, wherever I read it, it went on to say that motorcycle accidents are generally caused by other drivers whereas GA accidents are generally the result of pilot error or the pilot getting in over his head. From that, the conclusion could probably be drawn that motorcycle operation is (roughly) equally risky for motorcyclists of all skill/experience levels, whereas less-proficient pilots will be far more likely to be involved in a fatal accident compared to their more proficient brethren.

Of course, that assumes that this information is accurate. I did my own analysis of accident rates once and figured out that the average American has a 1% chance of dying on the road during his life, while the average GA pilot has approximately a 2% chance of dying in an aviation-related accident.
New airplanes, new employees, low fares, all touchy-feely ... all of them are losers. -Gordon Bethune
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 2:36 pm

Also we must remember that corporate flight departments, charters, etc. are generally much safer than other general aviation because of full time pilots, company rules that restrict risky behavior, and because FAA rules are more likely to be followed there. The risk of flying in a corporate or charter airplane is not much worse than flying on an airline, or so I have heard. Since these guys fly a lot, they may influence the general aviation statistics.

When you have amateur pilots, things get more risky. Far more often than the pro's, amateur pilots will forget things or take risks they aren't supposed to take. If the plane is owned by the pilot(s) rather than rented, it is more likely that the maintenance may not be what it is supposed to be either. That is not to say that all or even most amateur pilots cut corners. Most are very conscientious. But there are more risk-takers among the amateurs than among the pros. Also, it always helps to have more experience and the professional pilot will have more experience.

I also heard somewhere that flying general aviation is about as dangerous as motorcycle riding. But I believe that statistic was for amateur pilots.

One statistic we don't have is comparisons between the accident rates of RESPONSIBLE drivers and RESPONSIBLE pilots. For this rate, you don't count accidents caused when the driver killed was drunk himself(you would count it if he was killed by another drunk driver), when he wasn't wearing a seatbelt, or when he was more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, etc. Similarly, you wouldn't count a flying accident when a VFR pilot deliberatly went into IFR weather, etc. We're not talking perfection here. We are just talking about deliberate, very stupid things to do.

My guess would be that responsible flying, even by an amateur, would be comparable in risk to responsible driving. It is just that, as previously mentioned, doing stupid things will kill you more quickly when flying. One example - A driver with a .20 BAC (twice the legal limit in most states) will make it home most of time. Someone who flies an airplane when that drunk, unless he is a very experienced pilot who also has high alcohol tolerance, has all but signed his own death warrent. He almost certainly has a less then 50-50 chance of making it home alive.
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:22 pm

If you read NTSB reports and stats, the overwhelming cause of GA deaths are due to pilot error - not aircraft mechanical/component failures. Amazingly, fuel starvation is STILL one of the highest causes of forced approaches!
Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. - A. Einstein
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RE: Small Airplane Safety Compared To Car

Wed Apr 21, 2004 12:43 am

I have mentioned in this forum that GA flying is about as "deadly" as driving a motorcycle. When I was studying for my PPL, I came over that piece of extra material to read and it was really interesting. Sorry, I forgot the name of it.

Remember that all extreme ends of a specific field of transportation must be taken into consideration when one make up these often completely mis-leading numbers. First, we have the drunk 17 year-old on his Kawasaki 1000 cc escaping the police in downtown L.A, on the other hand we have the 55 year-old guy who has been driving carefully all his life on the countryside. Same applies to flying but keep in mind that the extreme ends aren't as far apart, that's why this comparison is lacking.

What I find interesting is that I am very aware of the calculated risk I'm taking every time I go fly (as I'm not experienced), however, when I get on a motorcycle or in a car, that never goes through my mind. It's the probably the height!  Big thumbs up

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