Aviation News

March 27, 2017

The Numbers Are In: U.S. Sets Records in 2016 for Most Airline Passengers and Safety

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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Source: BTS.gov
Source: BTS.gov
In a press release on Monday, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) told of a record-breaking 928 million people having flown in the United States during 2016.

The number includes any domestic or international airline that has flown passenger to, from or within the United States. Annual traffic numbers have been climbing annually since 2010 (after emerging from a recession), but this is the first time that the 900 million passenger mark has been met and surpassed. The statistic is a 3.5% increase from 2015′s total of 897 million.

More importantly, this has been accomplished safely. Over the last 8 years, over 6 billion (yes, billion) people have flown in the United States, with only 2 airline crash fatalities*, none of which were from a U.S.-based airline.

When combined with that fact that Monday also marks the 40th anniversary of the Tenerife Air Disaster, the deadliest plane crash in history, we see how incredibly safe air travel has become. Just a few decades ago, there was a major wreck in the United States every single year, with annual airline fatalities reaching the double or triple digits. When compared with today, it shows that the airline industry is sitting in the safest period that it has ever seen…by a lot.

This is not to say there have not been accidents in the United States during the last 8 years, as there have been several. However, this shows a great improvement in crash survivability as well.

Who is to thank for this incredible safety record? Many would credit those very crashes from previous decades. Those accidents have brought about painful lessons that have formed a path toward great advancements in crew training, regulation, aircraft design, and almost every aspect of the airline industry that has created this safety culture. You get where you are going in one piece because of the dedication and professionalism of every person involved with air travel, be it the gate agent, pilot, flight attendant, dispatcher, baggage handler, air traffic controller, federal regulator, and many more seen and unseen. Each role deals with rules and procedures that is in place to keep you safe.

It is worth mentioning that this streak will not last forever. We cannot be cocky nor complacent. There will at some point be a fatal airline accident in the United States. But like every accident, lessons will be learned, procedures will be modified, and the industry will become even safer afterward.

* – The two fatalities referenced are from Asiana Flight 214 in July of 2013, which had 307 passengers on board and is an incredible story of survivability in itself. A third fatality from that accident occurred off of the aircraft in an incident related to rescue equipment, unrelated to the crash itself.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has aviation experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He owns and operates NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation expert through writing, consulting, public speaking and media appearances. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.