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Debunking Airplane Myths

Straying away from business themes articles, this one talks about common misconceptions that the average person has about aviation.


To the over 1 billion travellers, airplanes are mysterious. Nobody knows the complex systems that go on under the feet when they are comfortably enjoying their meal on the window seat. This lack of information leads to crazy, sometimes reasonable, about the workings of the machine. Below are some common misconceptions along with the truth.


1. Someone could open the emergency door mid flight

When a plane is at a cruising altitude, the cabin is pressurized. Because of this, opening this door will require superhuman strength. A crazy passenger going loose around the cabin trying to open doors poses no risk to safety.



2. A small hole in a plane will lead to everyone being sucked out


Large explosions and structural failures in the chassis can cause rapid decompression and lead to everything inside being sucked out. However, small holes in the fuselage of a plane is not a risk and the plane can fly just fine to its destination.


3. Recirculated air in planes spreads disease


The air that circulates goes into the lower fuselage after one cycle. Here, half of it is removed from the airplane while the other half is run through filters. This is mixed with a fresh supply from the engines, and this cycle repeats. According to Boeing, between 94% and 99.9% of airborne microbes are captures by the filters. The filtering process is done every two or three minutes, more frequently than buildings. Over the past two years, as a result of the pandemic, airplanes have improved their filtering systems to increase caution.


4. Wearing your seatbelt can hurt your chances of surviving a plane crash


The logic is similar to that of a car belt. Passengers think that a seatbelt handicaps them, preventing a swift escape if needed. However, it does far more good than harm. In the case of most plane crashes, passengers experience a sudden, forceful jerk that can throw them out of their seat and into the bulkhead. It is better to have to deal with unlocking the belt than have the risk of rolling around the cabin and injuring passengers.


5. Oxygen masks don’t work, they are simply meant to calm passengers down

As you must have heard in airline safety videos (for those that actually pay attention), oxygen masks are deployed when there is a loss of cabin pressure. This is a threat anywhere above 10,000 feet when the air is unbreathable due to a lack of oxygen. Airplane oxygen masks can last for about 10 to 14 minutes, more than enough time for the pilot to descend to 10,000 feet.



6. Your chances of surviving a plane crash are minimal


A lot of people think airline crashes are the most dangerous thing that can happen to you and because you have absolutely no control over the situation, death is guaranteed. However, unlike what is seen on television and movie shows, this is not the case. According to the national Transport Safety Board, 95% of passengers involved in accidents on US carriers between 1983 and 200 survived.


7. The Aurora Borealis causes failure of airplane systems

Many people think that planes are banned from flying through the northern and southern lights on the poles since the solar winds and light photos will cause planes to crash. However, this is not the case. The aurora can cause mild static in communication systems but navigation and GPS systems remain unaffected. Zooming out of auroras, avionics are protected from EMI that could be caused by the plane’s own components. Engineers use methods like shielding, surrounding electronics and cables with conductive or magnetic materials to guard against incoming or outgoing emissions of electromagnetic frequencies, to ensure all systems work well.



8. Putting your phone on airplane mode makes no difference


When cell phones first came out, there was a concern that the mobile frequencies could cause problems for avionics and ground communication networks. To protect passengers, the Federal Communications Commission banned in-flight phone calls in 1991, but airlines still require passengers to turn their phone to airplane mode. This is primarily done to ensure that you are not distracted on your phone during the plane and are alert during the vital safety presentation. Technology has come a long way and as of today, mobile phones are safe to use in airplanes and the FCC has even considered lifting the ban.


9. Flying through lightning is dangerous



This is one of the most prevalent myths amongst passengers but it is false. Planes are designed to withstand storms and all external parts of the plane are grounded to prevent electrical arcs. When a plane is struck with lightning, the energy flows through an aluminum mesh underneath the carbon fiber body and is dissipated from the wings and tail. The plane acts as a container that blocks electromagnetic fields. Daily planes are struck by lightning and remain unaffected. According to the Scientific American website, in the USA, a commercial plane hasn’t crashed as a result of lightning since 1967.


10. Opening window shades during takeoff and landing affects a plane’s ability to fly


Over 90% of airplane accidents happen within 13 minutes of takeoff or landing. Airlines have a rule of closing tray tables and opening window shades during takeoff or landing. The tray tables have to be folded for an easy escape if necessary. The blonds have to be open so that you are aware of your surroundings and alert in case there is an emergency. The last thing you want is a disoriented passenger in a time of emergency. It is also so that emergency services can easily identify passengers.


11. Small planes are more dangerous than large planes


All of us, at some point, have looked down from our window seat while taxiing and noticed a Cessna Private Jet. Many people think that due to its small size compares to mammoth commercial airplanes, they are more susceptible to the effects of turbulence and may crash more easily. However, both types of planes are equally safe and in the time of emergency, it is the skill of the pilot that matters.


12. Planes are flown mainly through autopilot


It is a common misconception that apart from takeoff and landing, pilots only monitor while the autopilot does all the work. However, autopilot only serves as an advanced GPS, providing input regarding direction and positioning. It is not, however, capable of flying a plane independently. Rather, autopilot helps pilots avoid fatigue they would get by having to be constantly aware of the flight path and other details. Pilots have to go through intense training and qualification to fly a commercial plane and this is well used in a journey.


13. Losing an engine will cause a plane to crash


While this seems like a logical conclusion, it is not true. Airplanes can fly for hours on one engine in case one engine fails. Even if an engine catches fire, it is not fatal since there are systems in place that can immediately extinguish the flame and turn off the engine. The other one can be effectively used to get the plane to its destination. In fact, even if a plane lost both its engines, pilots are trained to carefully glide the plane for a significant distance, enough to perform and emergency landing.


Finally, let’s end with a cliché.


14. Flying is dangerous


As repeated multiple times before, commercial travel is the safest form of getting from one place to another. No other industry is monitored, scrutinized and investigated as much as aviation. Millions fear flying because they don’t have control over what is happening, but what they don’t realise that in the cockpit are people who have been training for decades and have run through every possible scenario that can happen. Another major cause of fear is the media where every single crash is reported and exaggerated. The truth is that they don’t happen as often as you think they do. Anytime you board a flight, the chances of you being in a fatal accident is 1 in 7 million. To put this into context, if you flew every day of your life, it would take you 19,000 years before you succumb to a fatal accident. Now, let us compare the safety statistics of other modes of travel. The chances of dying in a train are 1 in a million, 7 times more than an airplane. Driving accidents kill 130 people daily, 47000 per year whereas planes kill one person per 19,000 years. To put it another way, you are 1000 times more likely to die on your way to the airport than on the plane

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