The most common misconceptions about aircraft safety

LONDON – Over the years, there have been many myths and misconceptions about air travel security.

From toilet waste tossed into the air to where the safest seats are on board, André Viljoen, a former commercial airline pilot and logistics manager at component sourcing specialist Artemis Aerospace, solves some of the most common misunderstandings.

Turbulence can cause an airplane to crash


Turbulence is a common occurrence in air travel and something every pilot and passenger will encounter at some point.

Although the turbulence can be nerve-wracking and, at times, downright unpleasant, it is highly unlikely to bring down an aircraft. Aircraft are designed to withstand harsh conditions including high winds and lightning strikes.

The most likely situation in aircraft turbulence is that passengers sustain a minor injury because they were not seated or restrained at the time of the incident. To avoid this, passengers are recommended to keep their seat belt fastened when seated.

If one engine fails, the plane will crash


No passenger wants to hear the news that an engine has failed. However, the majority of commercial airlines use twin-engine aircraft, which are designed to take off, fly, and land safely on one engine.

In the unlikely event of an engine failure, rest assured that all pilots are thoroughly and regularly trained to deal with the situation and will return to the nearest airport immediately.

The safest seats on the plane are…


The truth is that there is no “safest seat on an airplane”. However, based on accident statistics and associated passenger survival rates, some suggest that certain seats, such as those in the rear of the aircraft, are safer than others.

If you are concerned about turbulence, then sitting on the wings or towards the front of the aircraft will be less bouncy compared to the rear.

The most important thing to note is that the odds of being in an accident are extremely low – around 1 in 20 million, while the odds of dying are a tiny 1 in 3.37 billion.

The air in the cabin makes you sick


If you’ve ever been on a flight and fell ill soon after with cold or flu symptoms, it’s easy to assume the cause was sitting in an airplane cabin breathing in circulating air.

However, there is no evidence that recirculating air in an aircraft cabin increases the risk of illness for anyone on board a flight.

It should be remembered that viruses, like the flu, are more likely to pass through direct contact, such as touching hands or being near an infected patient.

Viruses generally stay active longer on hard surfaces, so washing your hands regularly is the best way to help prevent the spread of these diseases.

Oxygen masks are bad news


Oxygen masks are an essential safety requirement for all aircraft. Commercial aircraft travel at high altitudes, which means cabins must be pressurized for passengers to breathe.

In the event of a cabin pressure failure, the emergency masks will provide life-saving oxygen to those on board.

If oxygen masks are required, pilots have received extensive training to deal with the situation and will perform an immediate emergency descent to an altitude of 10,000 feet where oxygen will not be required.

The number of times oxygen masks have been deployed on flights is minimal, and many are accidental.

In fact, the number is so low that the rarity would mean any stat related to oxygen masks would be considered invalid. Simply put, a passenger is extremely unlikely to encounter a situation requiring an oxygen mask.

Toilet waste is thrown out of the plane


All toilet waste from commercial aircraft is deposited in a holding tank. Waste will be stored there until the aircraft lands, when ground staff will safely empty the contents.

Although it is possible for a plane to leak frozen waste water (known as ‘blue ice’), airlines are prohibited from dropping waste in the air, and there are no buttons or equipment for the crew to attempt this.

Doors can be opened mid-flight


Despite what some of the action-packed Hollywood movies might suggest, opening an airplane door mid-flight is simply impossible. This is because aircraft cabins are pressurized.

At typical cruising altitude, up to 3.5 kg of pressure is pushing against every square inch of the door. That equates to over 500kg in total – far more weight than anyone could ever overcome.

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