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Is it still safe to fly?

Elenor Glove,

Mail online

25th August 2005

More than 300 hundred people have died in four separate air accidents around the world in the past month alone.

In the wake of the tragedies in Greece, Peru, Venezuela and Sicily are the skies becoming more dangerous?

Investigators are still struggling to identify the frozen and charred bodies of the 121 crew and passengers on board a Helios flight that slammed into a mountainside in Greece earlier this month.

The plane, described as a "flying tomb", flew on autopilot for 90 minutes after it suffered a catastrophic failure of cabin pressure, causing temperatures to plummet and possibly freezing all of those on board.

This tragedy comes in the same month as air crashes in Peru, Canada, Venezuela and Sicily cost many more lives.

The dramatic flurry of accidents has led the EU transport commissioner, Jacques Barite, to demand a blacklist of airlines that fail to meet basic safety requirements to be made available to the public.

Is there genuine cause for concern? On average there are 41 fatal air accidents each year but there have already been 36 in 2005 and it is only August.

However, experts say we should not be too alarmed. Kieran Daly, editor of Air Transport Intelligence, said: "Figures do show that accidents do come in clusters. But the incidents we have had in the last few days are spread around the world and there seems to be very little common cause."

When it comes to getting from A to B air travel is still the safest form of transport insists the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In fact, you are more likely to be struck by a meteor than to be in an aircraft accident.

Last year was the safest year ever in air transport history. There were three fatal accidents per million flights in 1979, compared with one fatal accident per two million flights last year.

'British safety second to none'

The recent air accidents have caused unease among travellers but the British airline pilots' union Balpa has reassured passengers that UK aviation safety is "second to none".

Balpa chairman Captain Mervyn Granshaw said: "Understandably, at this time, some people are worried about flying, with three separate incidents in recent weeks. But in Britain we have the most stringent tests and regulation, of both aircraft and flight crew.

So if the overall accident rate is still reassuring, what about individual aircraft? The Helios and Peru accidents have raised questions about the safety of Boeing 737 aircraft - the best-selling commercial aircraft ever made. Yet the 737 is still has a good safety record, with only 108 serious accidents in 232 million flights.

However, as the recent air crashes have highlighted, there is still some risk involved when it comes to flying so what can you do to keep yourself safe?

  • Check out the safety record of the airline

There is already a large amount of information available to the public regarding airline safety records on websites such as www.aviation-safety.net.

  • Fly on non-stop journeys

As the majority of accidents occur on either take-off or landing try to minimise risk by flying direct to your destination.

  • Do not be concerned about budget airlines

They come under just as strict regulations as other operators, so are no less safe. The two leading budget airlines in Europe, Ryanair and Easyjet, have flawless safety records.

  • Choose larger aircraft

Aircraft with more than 30 passenger seats come under more stringent safety checks than smaller planes and passengers are more likely to survive an accident in a larger aircraft.

  • Pay attention to safety announcements

You may think you have heard the safety briefing a million times before but they are not all the same and the information would be vital in the event of an accident. Keep your seatbelt on when seated at all times.

  • Do not worry about where you are seated

It makes little difference to survival, apart from in accidents during approach and landing where the rear of the plane is slightly safer.

to die in an air accident;

to suffer a catastrophic failure of cabin pressure;

to cause temperatures to plummet;

to freeze on board;

to cost many lives;

to demand a blacklist of airlines;

to fail to meet basic safety requirements;

to be made available to the public;

accidents - to come in clusters;

to cause unease among travelers;

to be worried about flying;

to check out the safety record of the airline;

to try to minimise risk by flying direct to your destination;

to have flawless safety records;

to come under stringent safety checks;

to hear the safety briefing;

to be vital in the event of an accident.

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