September 3, 2010 / 6:54 PM / 10 years ago

Dangers of flying change around the globe: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Flying in the developing world is 13 times more dangerous than flying in the United States or other first world countries, according to a new study.

An aircraft flies above central London April 20, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and a researcher on aviation safety, calculated that the odds of dying on a scheduled flight in first world countries such as Canada and Japan are one in 14 million.

But he found that flying in emerging nations such as India and Brazil leads to a one in 2 million chance of death per flight. Lesser developed countries, such as many found in Africa and in Latin America, were found to have a crash rate of one in 800,000.

Barnett, who based his findings on air safety data, said Nigeria had an especially poor safety record.

“It does seem to be the case that that there are differences in mortality risk, which existed before and exist now,” Barnett said. “Even in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, with first world incomes and quality of life, the statistical safety record is closer to that of still developing countries. They haven’t caught up.”

But despite the wide gap between developing and developed country, Barnett said “the good news is that safety seems to be increasing all over the world, and that’s the most important metric of all.”

Barnett, whose findings were published in Transportation Science, a journal published by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), theorizes that cultural factors such as individualism and deference to authority may explain the different accident rates.

“Deference to authority is important. If someone sees the captain doing something screwy, in some places they’d ask what they were doing. In some they would not. Individualism is important also. If something goes wrong, people in countries with greater individualism try to fix the problem, rather than just do what they are asked,” he said.

Barnett, who became interested in airline safety because of his own fear of flying, found little reason for airline travelers to fear flying, whether in the third world or the first.

“Personally, I am still a little bit nervous about flying. But it’s not rational. The numbers are extremely comforting. It’s silly to be frightened of flying if you aren’t frightened of going to the grocery store and having the ceiling collapse,” he said.

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