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Are small planes actually safe?

If you are a typical New Yorker, commercial airline flights are a normal part of your life. If you work for one of the many companies that own a private jet or helicopter, you likely are well acquainted with corporate business flights, too. You may even have friends who own their own private plane or own one yourself. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder if these small planes are safe?

Live Science reports that while small planes are not inherently dangerous, when it comes to the possibility of having an accident, taking a flight in one is about 19 times more dangerous than taking a ride in your car. While over 30,000 people die in traffic accidents each year as compared to 400 who die in small plane accidents, these raw numbers mean virtually nothing. That is because the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency tasked with keeping statistics on both vehicle and plane accidents, measures vehicle accidents by the number of miles traveled, whereas it measures plane accidents by every 100,000 hours flown. Thus the raw fatality numbers are an apples versus oranges comparison.

Not only is it virtually impossible to meaningfully compare miles traveled to the number of hours it takes to travel those miles, no one actually knows how long it takes a given driver or pilot to go the traveled distance. All kinds of factors come into play, most notably weather conditions.

Private versus commercial planes

In the air travel industry, the term "general aviation" refers to all domestic civilian flights other than scheduled commercial flights. Here the statistics become much more meaningful. Whereas the accident rate for commercial flights has improved by up to 80 percent in the past decade, the accident rate for general aviation flights has not changed. More alarmingly, although the fatality rate for corporate and business flights went down somewhat, the fatality rate for personal flights increased by 25 percent.

Bottom line, the next time you need or want to fly somewhere for business or pleasure, you may wish to trade the convenience of a private flight for the safety of a commercial one. This is general information only, not legal advice.

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