6 Plane Accidents That Actually Made Flying Safer

airplane taking offFlying in a commercial airliner today is an exceptionally safe form of travel. The U.S. airline industry has, over a period of more than four years, carried nearly 3 billion passengers without a single plane accident resulting in a passenger fatality. The record for general aviation aircraft, which range from single-engine airplanes to corporate jets, is somewhat less impressive, but accidents in this sector of flying are still relatively rare.

Flying in an airliner was not always safe. In the early days of commercial aviation, the passenger fatality rate was higher for airliners than it was for automobiles, and many times that of train travel. Over time, measures were adopted to help deal with the various risks of flying, and these steps greatly improved the safety record of the industry. Here are a few examples of how accidents made flying safer:

1) A Douglas DC-6 airliner crashed in Utah in 1947, with a loss of 52 lives. An investigation revealed that, due to a design defect, gasoline was drawn into the heating system of the plane, causing an uncontrollable fire. This and other accidents helped lead to the establishment of fail-safe design principles for commercial airliners to insure that any potential hazard would be identified before a plane enters service (more here).

2) Two airliners collided over the Grand Canyon in 1956, resulting in the death of 128 people. This accident brought about improvements in the nation’s air traffic control system, including the establishment of facilities that would monitor commercial planes as they flew over the country, ensuring that no more collisions would occur (read more).

3) A Boeing 727 jetliner crashed into a mountain near the nation’s capital in 1974, killing 92 people. The crash resulted from the failure of crew members to remain at a safe altitude during a landing approach at Dulles International Airport. Subsequent to this disaster, commercial airliners were equipped with ground-proximity warnings systems to alert pilots when they are too low. These safety devices would later become standard on airliners throughout the world, greatly reducing the number of “flight-into-terrain” accidents – see http://planecrashinfo.com/1974/1974-76.htm

4) A Boeing 727 jet crashed at New York’s Kennedy International Airport in 1975, with a loss of 113 lives. This and two subsequent disasters helped spur research into the effects of winds on airliners when they are taking off and approaching for landing. This in turn led to the development of equipment that can detect such hazards and warn pilots – http://planecrashinfo.com/1975/1975-34.htm

5) A DC-9 jet airliner and a small plane collided over Los Angeles in 1986. Among the 82 people killed were 15 residents of the neighborhood into which the DC-9 fell. Despite progress made in preventing collisions between airliners, this accident showed the risk of mixing airliners with light planes that are flown by visual reference. Coming out of this tragedy was the development of collision-avoidance systems, which virtually eliminated the risk of collisions in the sky involving commercial aircraft (additional info).

6) Tragedy came in the form of terrorism in the 9/11 attacks of 2001, in which nearly 3,000 lives were lost after four U.S. commercial jets were hijacked and used as catastrophic weapons. This criminal act lead to increased protective measures, the expansion of airborne security forces, and the development of security equipment that will be built directly into future commercial aircraft.

  • http://planecrashinfo.com/2001/2001-42.htm
  • http://planecrashinfo.com/2001/2001-43.htm
  • http://planecrashinfo.com/2001/2001-44.htm
  • http://planecrashinfo.com/2001/2001-45.htm

Changes brought about by these catastrophes came through the actions of both government authorities and the aviation industry, which has an economic interest in the issue of safety. Few things can be more financially devastating to an airline or aircraft manufacturer than a crash that is blamed on one or both of them.