Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By Ian Lowe

While road funding regulations remain messy, the Abbott government has supported a second Sydney airport over a high speed rail line linking the east coast cities.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 naturally focused attention on the safety of flying. Every day, people board flights expecting to arrive safely at their destination, so it is a shock when things go badly wrong. The data show that flying is actually very safe – and getting safer as systems are improved every time an accident report identifies problems.

In 2013, the global commercial aviation industry operated 36 million flights, carrying more than 3000 million passengers. There were 81 accidents recorded, with a total loss of 210 passengers. That was roughly half the figure for 2012, when more than 400 died.

But the statistics are obviously affected dramatically by one accident involving a large aircraft. The loss of MH370 alone killed more passengers than the whole of the industry’s operations in 2013. Had the crew of the seriously damaged flight QF32 from Singapore not managed to land their aircraft safely, the casualty numbers would have swamped all recent accidents.

Still, there is no doubt that flying is very much safer than driving. The regular loss of life on the roads is so predictable that we call it “the road toll” – as if it is the inevitable price of using the system. Nearly 1200 died on Australian roads last year – about 50 deaths per million people. In contrast the figure for flying works out at 0.07 per million passengers...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.