Air travel safer than ever, experts say

Airplane safety has improved since 1996, the year of the TWA Flight 800 air disaster and the deadliest year for air travel in the past three decades, according to Frank Hilldrup, chief adviser for international affairs, National Transportation Safety Board

Flight 800 crashed off Long Island in 1996 and killed 230 people, including 16 Montoursville Area High School students and their five adult chaperones.

Hilldrup, who was involved in the investigation of Flight 800, credited enhanced technology as well as steps taken to ensure better training, data collection, and analysis for the improvement in airplane safety.

“We don’t sit around and wait for things to happen. I can certainly say it’s (flying) much safer now,” Hilldrup said.

Preventative and proactive measures are in place that didn’t exist 25 years ago, according to the accident investigator.

“I think people should take comfort in the amount of time put into air safety,” he said.

Pilot training is better and the enhanced technology for air travel cannot be dismissed, he said.

Data is constantly being analyzed to ensure plane safety.

Looking back, Hilldrup said 1996 was a particularly bad year for commercial flight disasters.

“I was extremely busy with accidents that year,” he said.

In fact, that year marked the most deadly for air travel in a decade with 355 U.S. air passengers killed — more than double the figure for the previous year, according to statistics.

Worldwide, there were reportedly 1,179 air fatalities in 1996. Since then, the number has not exceeded 1,000.

The overall decrease through the years follows a general trend for the industry that’s seen aviation fatalities fall even as air travel increased.

In 2019, there were fewer than 300 fatalities.

“I am fully convinced it’s much safer to fly than it was 30 years ago,” Williamsport Regional Airport Director Richard Howell said. “Crash statistics are way down.”

Howell also pointed to improvements made in air travel in recent decades including the overall enhanced technology.


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