Ever flown on a plane? If yes, have you ever caught yourself mulling over dark thoughts like: What will happen if the plane gets struck by lightning? How safe is it to fly on an airplane? And how effective are the safety precautions?

Well, you have good reasons to! After all, you are more or less enclosed in a floating chamber, one that defies gravity, and  hovers 30,000 feet above the earth’s surface. It’s not like you can beat a quick escape when the chips are down!!

But beyond these thoughts that inspire sleepless nights, we bring you scientific answers to whatever questions you may have about flying, courtesy of BBC iWonder. So, strap yourself to your seat as your able pilot takes you on a cruise for answers.

1.  The Airplanes

Today’s aircraft are some of the safest machines ever created and have been designed to keep working even if things go wrong. A plane like the 747 has four engines, but it’s capable of landing with just one in the unlikely event that three of its engines fail.

2. Air Traffic Control (ATC)

One of the key features of air safety is Air Traffic Control. ATC began in 1920 in the United Kingdom and in those days, flags were used. By the 1950’s though, high technology had been introduced to the system, when radar was employed to monitor the position of aircraft in the airspace as well as manage the height and distance between them.

But the biggest test of this system came in 1996 following a fatal accident in Delhi, India. Two planes crashed as one was about to land and the other had just taken off. To prevent such collisions from happening again, ATC began to ensure that arrivals and departures used different routes, known as air corridors.

Satellite communication also enhances safety. Air traffic controllers and pilots can now talk to each other whenever the need arises. If a plane is having a problem, it can contact ATC, which can then move other planes to help the troubled craft make an emergency landing quickly.

3. Weather Radar

Most modern planes have weather radars which are usually located in the nose. These track thunderstorms, which can be found as high as 55,000 feet. Flying into a storm with strong winds can badly damage the aircraft, hence, weather radars help to pinpoint these storms, thus allowing pilots to reroute.

4. Data Sharing

Following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, efforts were made to ensure that pilots could reroute their flight paths to avoid war zones.

This led to the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Conflict Zone Repository, a website displaying details of risk zones which all airlines and their pilots can access and use to plan their routes.

5. TCAS

The Traffic Collision and Avoidance System is designed to prevent mid-air collisions. It is located aboard most commercial aircraft and can detect other aircraft in the area. If another plane is too close, it will send a message to the pilots to climb or descend.

6. The Pilots 

Though technology plays a vital role, pilots themselves are highly skilled and must undergo regular training.

There are always two pilots on commercial flights who constantly watch what the other is doing. Long before take-off, they check the aircraft externally as well as internally. Nothing is done without an agreement between the pilots.

Because pilots have been trained in the particular procedures to follow, if a critical situation should occur, pilots are mandated to consider the safety of the passengers and the aircraft foremost. 

Also, landing can be aborted at any stage before the wheels touch the ground, and up until this stage, the pilot always has the option of taking the aircraft up again before making another attempt at landing.

7. Owning Up To Errors

Pilots are encouraged to report their mistakes without fear of punishment, so others can learn from their experiences and proper safeguards can be put in place before a serious incident occurs.

Air accidents occasionally happen but in reality, they are very rare. In 2015 there were 37.5 million flights across the globe and a total of 68 accidents, of which only four involved fatalities.

Quick Facts:

  • Planes are designed to be strong enough to withstand turbulence, which poses a greater risk to passengers who aren’t strapped in. So, always strap yourself in!
  • While a lightning strike can cause a bang and instrument fluctuation in the plane, it is not critical.
  • Most aircraft have systems in place which can detect ice in the air. These will send warm air to at-risk areas so ice doesn’t get a chance to form.

With the cruise coming to an end, and the plane preparing for touchdown, would you say you are satisfied? And from your pilot…..Over.

See Also: The Plane Crash That Changed the Shape of Airplane Windows