Did you know that planes can fly safely with only one engine? That pilots and co pilots are required to eat different meals? That planes can glide safely to landing for over 100 miles with no engines? That water boils at 90 degrees celsius on planes (which is why tea and coffee taste terrible)? That planes can land themselves? Or that that planes have built in lightning protection systems?
All true. Planes are built with safety in mind. Blame the news, blame the papers or just blame Samuel Jackson and the rest of the cast of Snakes On a Plane but it seems that a fear of flying is everywhere. Why? I mean all the numbers clearly point to flying as the safest way to travel. How safe? Literally 3x safer than train travel and 12x safer than driving! Perhaps its the lack of control, separation from the ground we know so well or the variables of unpredictable weather. Whatever one’s reasons are, there is solace to be found.
If you are at all like me you find safety in knowledge. I need more than numbers, I need ideas, facts, escape plans and reassurances. Flying is a vanity hobby of mine and I thoroughly enjoy learning as much about it as possible. I find safety in America’s governing body of aviation, the technological advancements in flight and the requirements to become a pilot.
Bureaucracy can be a pain in many arenas but the Federal Aviation Administration is a beacon of standards, ways and means. Every airline, airplane, pilot and crew member must pass a rigorous certification process in order to be eligible to fly. If you are flying a US based airline you are flying on an airplane which has passed years of inspections, has detailed books kept on everything down to the toilet paper and is maintained on a daily basis. The person flying the plane? A college degree, rigorous FAA certification process and 1,500 hours of flying are required just to get an interview with an airline. Once hired each pilot is required by law to have a minimum of 1,000 hours of flight time on that particular aircraft before they are allowed to take the driver seat. Seen that movie Flight? The chances of someone like that being in the friendly skies are virtually nil. Random drug and alcohol tests are taken from pilots of all ranks regularly ensuring the soundest of minds at all times.
Forget the pilots, its true, planes really can land themselves. Well…kind of. If you’ve ever flown in overcast, snowy or rainy conditions you may have wondered how on earth the pilot knew where he was going. Instrument Landing Systems, also known as ILS, tell the plane exactly where the center of the runway is and how far it is long before the pilot can see it. Information from the ILS can be plugged into a system called autopilot. Autopilot is able to control the plane and its airspeed while following a specific course. The pilot simply programs a series of navigational points and the plane does the rest with complete safety. The autopilot works in tandem with the flights computers which are analyzing wind, weight, balance and speed to steer the plane to the perfect landing with no human help needed. Don’t worry, pilots have not entirely thrown in the towel. Most of the best pilots I have spoken to insist that the autopilot is there solely for lunch time and that they enjoy landing far too much to let a computer have all the fun.
Think of all these systems as back ups. Could your car drive itself to safety if you were incapacitated? Would your car know where your lane is if it were snowing and windy? Did the teenage driver next to you texting spend over 1,500 hours under supervised instruction before taking the wheel. When you put flight into perspective these are truly remarkable safeguards.
Planes these days take off with much more data than ever before. More data means less variables and less variables means more safety. Planes are constantly reporting everything from fuel consumption, wind changes, altitude changes and passengers loads all the way to search engine queries. All of the data being collected helps pilots fly the planes in the safest and most efficient ways far superior to anytime in history. Computer systems onboard the plane analyze real time data to let the pilot know what the optimal speed is to reduce fuel, the time to destination, the weather en route and the best place to put the extra large passenger sitting in 3B to make sure the wings stay level!
Very little is left to chance in modern aviation and nearly every potential problem is accounted for long before take off. If your plane is flying rest assured that there are 1000’s of data points, eyes and ears in place ensuring that all systems are go and that you have two pilots and a computer doing their jobs to get you to your destination via the safest form of travel.
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