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The fear of flying

The majority of people who step foot onto commercial airliners don't understand how these can even fly. Naturally their greatest concern - especially when it comes to fearful flyers - is, "what if something goes wrong when the aircraft is 10,000 meters above ground level?"

1. Statistical facts

A320 in clouds Aircraft manufacturers have to comply with safety statistics requirements as dictated by international organizations. In any modern aircraft, the probability of a catastrophic scenario (of the kind that may lead to a crash) occurring shall not exceed one in a billion per flight hour. A maximum of 100 scenarios of this kind is allowed on any given aircraft type. Moreover, a single failure must not lead to a catastrophic scenario occurring. Should an aircraft not comply with these rates, it will not be certified and will therefore not be able to perform commercial flights.

Taking into account the average flight time (five hours), the odds of being involved in an aircraft accident amount to about one in two million.

2. Plane or car?

In ten years (between January 1995 and December 2004), a total of 5,612 people died in 376 commercial aircraft accidents. This represents an average of about 560 people dying in 38 accidents per year.

In France, over 5,000 people die in car crashes every year. Of course, more people step into cars everyday than in aircraft. Nevertheless, the fact remains that you are at a far greater risk of being involved in a crash when driving to the airport than when getting on an aircraft. The accepted belief, however, is that people have more control over their fate when in their car than when a passenger on an aircraft.

3. The media contribute to the fear

Media coverage would suggest that aircraft accidents occur on a daily basis. In fact, reports of such accidents are between 150 and 200 times more likely to receive front-page coverage than reports of more common causes of death. Consequently, fearful flyers develop a negative bias towards flying. Their fears become validated by the relentless bombardment of information relating to airline safety following an accident.

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