Tag Archives: statistics

Countdown to Christmas – Question 18: Wednesday 18th December

As many of us prepare to fly prior to Christmas Day, it’s worth remembering that the chances of being involved in a fatal air accident are 1 in 29 million. You actually have more chance of being eaten by a shark (1 in 11 million) or killed in an accident with a lawn mower (1 in 3 million).

AirplaneSo given that air travel is statistically stunningly safe, which part of the flight is most likely to be fatal?

(a) Take off

(b) Initial climb to cruising altitude

(c) Descent

(d) Landing

ANSWER: Takeoff

According to 2012 statistics, here are the percentage fatalities based on the portion of a flight:

Taxi, load/unload, parked, tow 0 %
Takeoff 16%
Initial Climb 14 %
Climb (flaps up) 13 %
Cruise 16 %
Descent 4 %
Initial Approach 12 %
Final Approach 13 %
Landing 12 %

Flying is easy – it’s not hitting the ground hard and fast that’s the tricky part 😉

An underlying issue here is that when you think about the dangers of any activity, it’s important to be prepared to look at any actual evidence that’s available to evaluate the reality. For example, although the perception of flying is that it seems more dangerous that using a lawn mower, the numbers tell us otherwise. Similarly the belief that terrorists are lurking around every  corner ready to kill you and your loved ones is stronger than the numbers. An interesting post from earlier this year showed that you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist (number of terrorist deaths on US soil in 2103=3; number of people shot by toddlers=5).

The point is that using evidence and statistics is to be preferred over perceptions and feelings. This is, of course, easier said than done because human beings respond at an emotional level much more intensely and frequently than they do at a rational level.  If there’s a clash between our personal beliefs and statistics, we will always blame the statistics – which is like saying we believe a sample size of 1 versus a sample size of millions.


Airplane crash statistics: from 2012.

Statistics Brain: a good site to explore all manner of statistical information.