news·3 min read

Ethiopian Airlines Crash: Flight Safety in 2019

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Mar 13, 2019

The Story

The recent Ethiopian Airlines crash killed all 157 people on board. As friends and families mourn the victims, the incident is raising safety concerns for both airlines and consumers.

I know why, but want to hear you say it.

The concerns surround the fact that the plane was new – a Boeing 737 Max 8. And was the same model as the Indonesian Lion Air flight that went down minutes after takeoff last year, killing all 189 people on board.

Are the two crashes connected?

So far, there’s no evidence of that. Investigations into plane crashes can sometimes take months or even years. The Lion Air investigation is still going and we don’t know what caused it. Although a preliminary report shows that the pilots were struggling with new autopilot software that seemed to be malfunctioning. We don’t know what caused this latest crash. And while officials recovered the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, those could take weeks to analyze.

I’m still worried. How are airlines responding?

After the crash, China and Indonesia ordered all of their airlines to temporarily stop using the Max 8. Australia, the EU, and Singapore are also among those banning the Max 8 from their airspace. At first, the FAA stood by the plane, saying there wasn’t enough data on the crash to justify grounding the model. Then on Wednesday, after days of pressure, Canada and the US decided to put the Max 8 temporarily out of commission.

I’m scared. How safe is it to fly?

Since plane crashes happen less frequently and are more devastating than car crashes, flying can often feel more dangerous. But US government statistics show that flying is still much safer than driving. Drivers have a 1 in 103 chance of dying in a car crash. But you have a roughly 1 in 188,364 chance of dying while on a plane.

Ok so how do I tell which airlines are safest?

A site that ranks airlines based on things like crash records and government audits considers Australia’s Qantas the safest airline in the world. Air New Zealand and American Airlines were also on the list for 2019. You can find out more about specific airlines here. Or check out the FAA’s country ratings and the EU’s list of banned airlines.

Are there different risks for domestic vs international flights?

It’s hard to say. A UN agency sets international aviation safety standards, but it’s up to individual countries to enforce them. In the US for example, the FAA rates countries based on whether they push carriers to follow these standards. If they don’t, the FAA limits that country’s carriers from operating to and from the US. The EU follows a similar process.

What do airlines do to prevent crashes?

New tech and pilot protocols – like FAA rules requiring pilots to rest a certain amount of hours between flights – have decreased the risk of flight accidents. Flight crew and operation teams also go through detailed checklists before every flight, like making sure there’s enough fuel. Something to keep in mind next time sitting at the gate makes you want to pull your hair out.


Statistically, flying is still a very safe way of getting around. But two crashes within five months of each other have left hundreds of families in mourning, and put the aviation industry on high-alert about what’s supposed to be a safe, more fuel-efficient plane.

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