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

MORE: Do you think all the security screening—taking off our shoes, for example—really makes air travel safer?
MB: Yes, I do. When I was at FAA, I was very much aware of the information that came from the intelligence community and the way TSA was using technology and screening tactics. These days, I’m no more informed than the average flyer, but I do believe they have had very valid reasons for making the requirements they now do and I think they have also tried, over time, to look at the demographics of who is flying. Now young children and much older people don’t have to take their shoes off or their coats off, and they have made accommodations. As the screening gets better and better, I think it will be less and less intrusive.

MORE: What are some ways to get to your gate without a lot of stress?
MB: If you’re trying to make the process as hassle-free as possible, remember to pack sensibly in terms of your carry-on. You can leave the smaller iPad-type computers in your carry-on, and usually a lot of us are carrying chargers and all of that. Pack them so that the chargers and the cords are not all wadded around everything and balled up and hard to see. There are sensible ways to make sure you’re not one of those people who is going to be pulled over and have everything taken out of your bag. Unfortunately, don’t wrap the Christmas presents, because they may very well get unwrapped and that’s a big hassle for everybody.

MORE: In the future, we may see pilot-less flights. Could those be even safer if pilot error is so often to blame for accidents?
MB: There is a tremendous amount of dated information that says that unmanned and semi-autonomous aircraft are very safe. But I don’t think the technology is there yet to have that kind of solid assurance. Most of this [sort of flying] is being done by aircraft that are flown in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and here, but in very controlled circumstances. Trying to integrate those flights with all the other flights—we haven’t gotten there yet. Within the next 10 years, there is going to be a brand new system called NextGen, which is moving us from flights that are controlled by radar—controlling flights by radio, voice communication to cockpit—to flights that are part of a satellite-based and digital communication system that is highly precise, much safer and, frankly, is going to be more efficient. We will not be experiencing the kinds of delays and issues we have in today’s system.

MORE: There have been huge technology improvements in aircraft.
MB: New aircraft right now are flying computers. When you look at the Boeing Dreamliner, the 787, it has a tremendous amount of technology built in and capabilities that are just inherent to the safety of the aircraft itself. It’s only one more step to go to where you really are flying the plane almost entirely on autopilot. There are all sorts of advances that are coming into play that would essentially have the cockpit shared by a pilot and an autonomous system. I think you’re going to see those kinds of changes coming much more quickly than looking in the cockpit and seeing some version of R2D2.

MORE: Is there any flight you wouldn’t want to take yourself?
MB: I love to fly. I’ve flown experimental aircraft and I’ve flown an F16. But if I am flying in a developinbg nation, I would check before booking a flight on an airline or charter service I never heard of. That is were I tend to be a little more careful, but otherwise, no.

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