This year’s freak spate of crashes doesn’t mean air travel’s getting more dangerous

Air Algerie’s crash over northern Mali marks the third horrific airline crash in a week. If, as is assumed, all 116 people on board died in the accident, that will put the airliner death toll at 461 in just seven days. And if that wasn’t enough to put a person off flying, there’s the fact that these disasters came mere months after MH370 disappeared somewhere over the southern Pacific, taking 239 lives along with it.

But even though 2014 has indeed been one freakishly bad year for air travel, flying is still one of the safest ways to get around. Here’s some key context, in charts:

If accidents continued at the current rate, 2014 would have 1,230 airline fatalities—but here’s how it compares with five months to go:

2014 reflects data as of July 24, 2014.​

But one unusually bad year can distort the overall trend in air-travel safety, which has been steadily improving:

Air-safety-has-clearly-been-improving-Airline-accidents-5-year-moving-average-Airline-fatalities-5-year-moving-average-_chartbuilder (3)

Another sign that 2014 is a fluke: A flight’s most dangerous stage is at the end. But so far, the Taiwan accident is the only one that crashed while landing.

boeing_phase of flight

And overall, air travel is nowhere near the deadliest major form of transport: Driving is, of course.

Fatalities-per-billion-passengers_chartbuilder (2)
Note: It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons here. The ferry and airline data used here assume each trip is taken by a different person (“passenger”); the car fatalities data, however, use total population as a proxy for “passengers.” Given the amount of time people spend in and around cars (versus ferries and planes), this metric probably understates the fatality rate.
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