What Makes Flying Safe


We’re all familiar with the statistics that tell us flying in an airplane is safer than riding in a car. But why exactly is this the case?

What Makes Flying Safe

Studies show you’re 19 times safer flying in a plane than driving in a car. Think about it why that is; how often are you required to inspect your car for defects? How many hours did you spend training for your driver’s license? How distracted are you when driving a vehicle? 

Security on an Airplane

Do you want to know the answers to the above questions, and how they contribute to driving being statistically less safe than flying?

Once per year; 40 hours; varies per person. But we all know some of us eat, apply make-up, use our phones, and so much more when we should have our attention on the road. So, what else makes flying a safer form of transportation?

Before Take-Off  

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires A, B, C, and D checks of all commercial aircraft. 

These checks fall under the Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP) established by each individual airline under the direction of the FAA.

Pre- and Post-Flight Checks

Performed at the gate, this is what the crew does before and after a flight, or if a plane is parked overnight. 

They happen regularly between flights and involve taking a look at the wheels, brakes, and fluid levels. If a plane is scheduled to do back-to-back flights, these quick maintenance checks are performed every 24 to 60 hours regardless.

A and B Checks 

These are “lighter” once-overs of the plane but are a bit more thorough than a pre or post-flight check. These are often performed in the airport hangar rather than at the gate, and may include a visual inspection of the following:

  • Alignment

  • Control Panels and Surfaces

  • Emergency Lights

  • Engines

  • Evacuation Slides

  • Fluid Checks

  • Hull Inspection

  • In-Flight Entertainment Systems

  • Landing Gear

  • Oxygen Supplies

  • Parking Brake

  • Pressurized Systems

  • Toilets

The scheduling of these checks vary, but A checks occur between 400 and 600 flight hours. The A check should take at least 10 hours, but up to 70 hours can be allotted for this type of inspection.

The B check follows a six- to eight-month schedule and may take up to three days to perform. Many times, some of the B check items are marked off during an A check, streamlining the system and getting a plane out of the hangar a little bit sooner.

C Checks 

This heavier maintenance usually takes a plane out of commission for a more thorough inspection that can take two weeks to perform. Every two years, up to 6,000 hours are devoted to inspecting numerous aircraft components.

  • Inspection of Load-Bearing Components

  • Inspection for Corrosion

  • DC Bus Tie Evaluation

  • Lubrication of Fittings and Cables

As with the lighter inspections, some of the tasks are included in the routine checks to ensure everything is looked at on a regular basis. As a result, a C check may not take the full 6,000 hours because components were already looked at during a B or A check previously scheduled.

D Checks

Every six to ten years, a plane gets an extensive D check. From nose to tail, the plane can be taken apart for thorough inspection that requires up to 50,000 hours. During these D checks, an airline may decide it’s time to refurbish parts of the plane, or it’s time to retire the aircraft and invest in a new one.

Now we know how the aircraft is prepared for safer flights, but what about the human element of flying safely?

Pilot Training

Pilots must attend an FAA-approved training course in order to fly commercial aircraft. An aviation school such as FLT Academy teaches potential pilots to navigate different equipment under a variety of conditions in order to give them the experience they need to carry precious cargo.

When you take a look at the training, there are a lot of certifications and licensures to earn before a pilot can get behind the yoke of a commercial aircraft with passengers.

Order of Operations for Flying 

  • Student Pilot

  • Sport Pilot

  • Recreational Pilot

  • Private Pilot

  • Commercial (can fly for pay, but not with passengers)

  • Flight Instructor

  • Airline Transport Pilot (can fly  for pay with passengers)

Rigorous training allows a pilot to earn his or her Airline Transport Pilot license with a variety of experience and testing.

  • Military pilot 21+ years old with 750 hours of flying time

  • Four-year aviation degree graduates (of certain institutions) who are 21+ years of age with 1,000 hours of flying time.

  • Two-year aviation degree graduates who are 21+ years old with 1,250 hours of flying time.

  • Pilots 21+ years of age with 1,500 hours of flying time.

Air Marshals 

Despite a pilot’s extensive training in protocol, sometimes there are things you can’t control on a flight. As a precaution, the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) operates under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide an element of security on an aircraft.

Air Marshals are trained to blend in with other passengers and keep an eye on how the flight is faring. Their training also includes marksmanship, self-defense tactics, and terrorist behavior recognition. The creation of this job dates back to 1961 when then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy requested the presence of law enforcement on flights.

Air piracy, or overtaking an aircraft, was a concern throughout the 60s and 70s, so Air Marshals started centering their operations out of Miami. The program grew to employ about 1,700 Marshals to patrol the skies until 1973 when passenger screening became mandatory.

Even though FAA mandated passenger screenings reduced the need for the number of Air Marshals, the program continued to evolve. By 2001, there were only 33 active Air Marshals, and you can imagine what happened to the numbers after September 2001. The program trained and employed 600 new Marshals by the end of the month, and by 2013 there were an estimated 4,000 Air Marshals employed by the FAM.

Air Marshal Training

  • 7-Week Law Enforcement Course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

  • Additional training at the William J. Hughes Technical Center

  • Marksmanship training with SIG Sauer P229, SIG Sauer P239, and GLOCK 19 GEN 9mm

Initially based solely out of Miami, there are now field offices in the following U.S. cities:

  • Atlanta

  • Baltimore

  • Boston

  • Charlotte

  • Chicago

  • Dallas

  • Denver

  • Detroit

  • Houston

  • Las Vegas

  • Los Angeles

  • Minneapolis

  • Newark

  • New York

  • Orlando

  • Philadelphia

  • San Francisco

  • Seattle

  • Washington, D.C.

Marshals have successfully lobbied to protect their identities while flying on duty; they can wear whatever clothing they want and are no longer required to pre-board with approved groups (those with children, the elderly, etc…) which made them more conspicuous fliers. 

Passenger Screening

If you’ve flown in the last twenty years, then you’re probably familiar with the TSA screening guidelines for commercial flights. In addition to having government-issued identification at the airport, there are other measures put in place to promote safety.

Luggage Screening

All baggage, whether checked or carry-on, is screened for its contents. Some items are restricted to 3oz-sized containers, and electronic devices must be removed from all bags to be screened separately. 

Transporting a Firearm on a Plane 

Passengers are permitted to carry their concealed weapons on commercial flights but are instructed to follow safety protocol. First and foremost, you must have a concealed carry permit. Second, your firearm must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Third, your firearm and ammunition cannot be in your carry-on luggage, and instead must be stowed in checked luggage. It’s best practice to declare the presence of your concealed carry and ammunition when checking in at the ticket counter.

Passenger Pat-Down 

You may be patted down after walking through the metal detectors or “puffer machines” (explosives trace-detection portal machines) at security checkpoints. These screenings are meant to be random and to help determine if anything hazardous is concealed on a person’s body pre-flight. Pat-downs can be performed in a private screening area, and are to be conducted by a person of the same sex as the passenger.

Pre-Flight Screening

The TSA conducts pre-flight screening by comparing ticket holder’s names to those on the “Do Not Fly” lists, also known as watchlists. A passenger’s name, sex, and date of birth are used to find any matches and prevent a potentially at-risk individual from admission on the flight.

All of these measures are in place to make flying a comfortable and safe way to get from point A to point B.