Ask the Captain: Is takeoff or landing more dangerous?

ByABC News
April 2, 2012, 6:40 AM

— -- Question: Which part of a flight is more dangerous, takeoff or landing?

— submitted via e-mail

Answer: First let's look at a few statistics to determine if there is truly a danger. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2011, 2.8 billion people flew in 38 million airline flights (30 million jet and 8 million turboprop). There were 11 hull loss accidents in Western-built jets, with 5 accidents involving fatalities. The fatality rate was 0.07 per million passengers. Of the 2.8 billion passengers, 486 were fatally injured on all types of aircraft (jet and turboprop). This was down from 786 in 2010. The last two years have been the safest years in aviation history. It is hard to say that flying is dangerous when viewing this remarkable record.

To your question about the relative risk between take-off and landing: According to the Boeing Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents - Worldwide Operations 2001 to 2010, 17% occur in the takeoff phase (10% on takeoff and 7% on initial climb) accounting for 25% of the fatalities. During the landing phase, there are 36% of the accidents (14% during the final approach and 22% during landing), accounting for 24% of the fatalities. This means that there is a greater chance of being in an accident during the landing phase but the likelihood of being a fatality is approximately the same. Again, the statistics show an extraordinary safety record.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with U.S. Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.