Afraid to Fly? Marion Blakey Talks Travel Safety

The Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO helps put your mind at ease

by Lesley Kennedy
marion blakey image
Marion Blakey says air travel is extremely safe.
Photograph: Aerospace Industries Association

Personally, when I travel, I am more interested in the track record for delays. It really would not occur to me to check on the carrier’s equipment and the safety record of the equipment. It is, however, absolutely a good idea to check on the safety of small airlines and airlines in developing countries if you're traveling there. One of the things people going on safari, for example, may not always know is that safety regulations in other countries aren’t necessarily what we take for granted here. There are 80 different commercial carriers in Africa, so you’ve got a lot of variance there. Another thing I think is important is to check on a country’s safety rating from the FAA. Most of the airports we all fly into are safe and have been reviewed and audited by the FAA, so there has been a third party scrutiny about the way they operate and do business, and even the regulatory requirements that they have to adhere to.

MORE: Are American airlines safer than international airlines?
MB: It depends on the country and the track record of the carrier. It really would be wrong to say that U.S. airlines are safer. I don’t think you would see more than a mirco difference with many  countries.

MORE: Are smaller planes less safe than large ones?
MB: There is a difference in the track record between general aviation and commercial aviation. In general aviation, you lump in people who own their own planes, who sometimes don’t fly very often or who are sometimes less experienced. So, with that whole universe, yes, there is considerable difference and there’s a lot of effort that goes into trying to get people who fly their own planes to be very, very, very rigorous about training and flight hours and all of that.

When it comes to charter service, which was the issue for the Mexican flight that just went down with the singer [Jenni Rivera] on it, there’s a difference in the track record for those charters. There is a difference in their ability to hire seasoned pilots—often pilots for small charters will have fewer flight hours. Now, I’m not talking about NetJets or some of the majors, but [safety concerns and pilot experience] are certainly worth asking and inquiring about.

MORE: So it’s more a pilot issue than mechanical issue?
MB: Over 70 percent of all aviation accidents are pilot error, so it’s the human factor that gets you much more than the technology or the equipment.

MORE: What do the stats say on pilots—young v. old, or male v. female?
MB: I’m not aware of any significant differences in terms of safety records on the older/younger, and certainly not male/female. The number of flight hours of experience is something you could correlate to age, and experience matters, there’s no question about it. But remember, a number of younger pilots are also people coming out of the military who have had rigorous, rigorous flight training and may have flown extensively, in circumstances that really hone your flying skills. So, I really wouldn’t put it on an age thing.

MORE: Has flying become safer since 9/11? 
MB: If you’re using the word “safer” to include something that is a terrorist act, I do think so. There have been practically no instances of security issues with U.S. flights since 9/11. The couple that we all know about, the shoe bomber or the Christmas Day underwear bomber, for example, were coming from abroad. I do think the kind of rigorous screening that has been instituted by TSA contributes to our overall security in traveling.

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