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ET had it right: Flying is safer than bicycling p2

Our headline may be hard to believe after a week of wondering what caused AirAsia Flight 8501 to crash into the Java Sea. There was a moment of disbelief on Dec. 28 when news first broke that the plane had disappeared from radar just 35 minutes into its flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.

The mystery turned to tragedy two days later when searchers found a debris field that was also littered with bodies. The tragedy quickly mingled with horror when sources revealed that families and friends waiting for news of their loved ones learned of the discovery at the same time the rest of us did.

When we left off in our last post, we were talking about the typical risks that planes deal with, as reported by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE. The insurance company released its analysis in early December and was careful to point out that the "tragic and extraordinary activity" in 2014 may not necessarily indicate "any major systemic problems with safety." According to the report, too, it is important to remember that 2012 was the safest year of flying since 1952. We are getting better at this.

The report notes that most accidents occur on the ground, where ground crew and equipment try to maneuver around moving and parked airliners. Still, other things can interfere with an airplane.

Bird strikes caused almost $23 billion in damages to planes every year from 2009 to 2013. Planes have also hit cows that have wandered onto the runway and, in one case, a herd of zebras. Drones are also becoming a problem.

Without factoring 2014 in, the bottom line for passengers is that the odds are in our favor when we board a plane. On commercial airlines, fatalities generally run fewer than 2 out of every 100 million passengers. During the '60s, fatalities ran closer to 130 in 100 million.

While there are differences from region to region -- air travel in Africa, for example, is more dangerous than it is here -- flying in the U.S. and European Union is more than 1,000 times safer than it was in 1959. One passenger out of 29 million dies in an airplane crash. In contrast, 1 in 340,000 people will die riding a bicycle.

Source: Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, "Global Aviation Safety Study 2014," December 2014

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