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Home > Air Safety > Are longer flights safer than short distance flights?
Are longer flights safer than short distance flights?
Aviation - Air Safety
Friday, 28 October 2011 18:12

How to cope with fear of flying

Hi Capt Lim,

I've learned much about turbulence and flying from your site. Thank you! But I still have a few questions and hope you can help answer them...

1. It seems that bigger planes are better at dealing with turbulence. Does the height that planes fly at also have something to do with it? Almost every year, I fly from Canada to Asia over the Pacific and never have encountered horrible turbulence (knock on wood). But this time I flew within China, oh on a 2-hour flight and it was shaking for a good hour! So I wonder if planes flying at a lower height on short distance, does it encounters more turbulence?

2. I was reading some of the plane accidents in history and it seems like most accidents happen in short distance flights. I would think flying 10-15 hours would make the plane more vulnerable to accidents due to pilot fatigue/equipment problems/etc. Why is that not the case? Are longer flights safer than short distance flights?

3. After reading about your explanations on turbulence, it does ease my mind about it. But it has put other worries in my mind - unforeseen equipment failures and unprofessional pilots. For short distance flights, the planes seem to unload one group of passengers and immediately board a new group. How can I be sure that the plane has been fully inspected prior to every trip? And pilot's training and reaction in danger can greatly alter the outcome. How can I be sure that the captain involved are qualified and not under fatigue or any other issues?

Thanks for your answers in advance!


Hi Lisa,

1. It is true that bigger planes are better at dealing with turbulence, partly because they generally cruise at higher levels where there are fewer clouds. The smaller planes ply the domestic routes which are shorter in length, but they encounter more weather because of the lower altitude they fly at – hence more turbulence.

2. On long haul flight, it is a requirement that the plane be manned by two set of crew. So fatigue is not an issue. Statistics show that about 80 per cent of air accidents occur during the take off and landing phase and the cruise is the safest portion of any flight. Hence one would measure the likelihood of accidents based on the frequencies of take-offs and landings and not because of its longer duration in the air.

3. Newer planes are almost built to perfection today but the airline industry has not been able to make human to the standard of the machines. Nevertheless, the pilot profession is a highly regulated career and the checks of their proficiency are very rigorous. Any ‘unprofessional pilots’ would have been weeded out through the 6-monthly checks. As for the machines, they are checked simultaneously by the engineers during the transits at the disembarkation and boarding of the passengers. However, a more comprehensive inspection is carried out at night out of your sight.

Pilots are restricted by Flight Time Limitation guidelines issued by International Authority and the local Licensing body. The captains adhere strictly to such limitations failing which they could have their licenses withdrawn.

CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia recently grounded an airline because of safety issues.

So I would not worry about safety of planes or pilots but leave them to the proper authorities to handle or else you will not enjoy your flight.

Remember, everything we do in life involve some risks. Driving to the airport, crossing the road or climbing a ladder at home are just some of them. And flying is safer than driving if that makes you feel any better!

PS. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my new Twitter at @CaptKHLim

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Thank you!!!
luke , 09 Jan, 2016

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