Across the 5 million square miles of U.S. airspace, over 2 million passengers walk aboard one of the almost 24,000 commercial flights to reach their next destination every day. While many of these flights take off and touch down without incident, there are hundreds of near misses between many aircraft reported almost every year. There's a thought that makes that tiny coach seat even more uncomfortable.
Whether it's an errant direction from a U.S. air traffic controller or a distraction on the runway, behind each of these almost collisions is a documented reason for what occurred and could have been prevented. We scoured the data to outline the odds you may have been involved in one of these incidents and pieced together where the most risky altitudes and parts of passage turn from friendly skies to danger zones. Keep reading to learn more.
The Most Treacherous Moments in the Sky
When we looked at which flight phase combinations yielded the most near miss incidents, both planes in the cruising phase had the most. This was followed by the combination of one flight climbing after take-off and one flight cruising, and one flight descending while the other was cruising.
When looking at the overall most common stage, we found 40% of the near misses from 1987 to 2016 occurred during the leveling or cruising phase of flight making it riskiest overall. If you were on a flight and happened to be involved in a near miss, odds are it most likely occurred in this phase. However, the next two phases combined – climbing and descending – made up 34% of near misses.
In April 2015, one of these near misses occurred at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when an air traffic controller gave clearance to lift off to Miami … directly in the path of a jet that had just landed. Ultimately, he aborted the takeoff, and it resulted in an incident labeled “no danger” by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This was one of the 4% of near misses recorded during takeoff. It was the phase least at risk to have a near miss for our neighbors to the south.
Near Misses on the Rise
Since 1990, the most near misses recorded in a single year were over 450. While this may sound like a lot, this represented less than 0.007% of total flights that ascended in 1990. Over 350 incidents
were recorded in 2016 – the second highest recorded number of incidents in more than 25 years – but it only represented 0.005% of all flights in 2016.
What may eventually require more attention (and regulation) is drone and airline near misses or collisions. The FAA reported over 1,200 sightings of the pilotless aircraft, controlled by hobbyists or certified fliers, getting too close to airplanes over an eight-month period in 2016 – 400 more incidents than recorded in 2015 between February and September (a rise of about 45%). Still, don't assume that you're rolling the dice by being on one of these flights – even with an increase in total cases – is less risky because of the volume of flights taking place each day.
Dangerous Spots to Take Off
Out of all U.S. airports with recorded near misses, one airport stood out with the most: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the airport to investigate a near miss between a cargo plane and passenger flight in 2014.
Only one other airport, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), saw over 100 incidents of near misses. Between Anchorage and Los Angeles, these two airports accounted for 209 of near misses since 1987.
Low Altitudes, Higher Risk
While the average altitude of a near miss is 5,000 feet, it does vary when you look at the different phases of flight. In general, near misses occur at low altitudes. The averages for climbing, descending, and leveling the flight or cruising were closer to 6,000 feet. It was much lower for near misses during approach (just over 2,500 feet).
Another Uneventful Flight
With roughly 24,000 commercial flights taking off across the U.S. every day – and with roughly 350 incidents of near misses occurring in a calendar year – you're more likely to spend time fiddling with your tray table and reviewing how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device than be on one of these flights. For once, the odds may be in your favor. For even better odds, though, check out OnlineCasino.ca to find the best online casinos.
We analyzed data from the Federal Aviation Association to find out when the most U.S. midair collisions were reported, at what altitude and which phases of flight had the most incidents.
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