Research has shown that when air crashes happen and lives are involved, it would happen during the first three minutes or last eight minutes of flights.
The take-off and landing make just two percent of the entire flight but it accounts for 13 percent of all fatal accidents. Landings are four percent of the average flight but are responsible for 48 percent of fatal accidents. This is because take offs last just 30 to 35 seconds.
If a problem arises, the pilot has almost no time to decide what to do. This significantly increases the chances of dangerous error taking place and the same can be said for the landing phase.
Ultimately, it is both easier and safer for a plane to cruise than to land and take off. For instance, if you are in the air and both engines shut down, because of the high velocity, the plane will continue to glide. A typical airline loses about a mile (1.6km) in altitude for every 10 (16km), it moves forward, giving the pilot a little over eight minutes to react.
When aviation accidents occur, they are caused by a combination of factors, primarily human errors, mechanical failure and inclement weather.
Human error is the most common cause, accounting for 50 percent of all accidents.
Mechanical failures do occur but they account for just a small proportion of airliner crashes. And just as driving becomes more dangerous in bad weather, so does flying.
Although today’s airlines are able to safely operate in any weather conditions, small aircraft have to be far more careful. Fortunately, there are a number of modern technologies that help to reduce these risks, especially during the first and final moments of flights.
A typical flight takes place in eight phases. Passengers are only present for six of the phases. More phases are needed in the event a plane is flying at low altitudes or experiences complications in the air.
Standing: At this phase, the aircraft is stationary. The engines are started and shut down.
Pushback/Towing: At this point, the aircraft is moved with the assistance of a tow vehicle. Once again, the engine is started and shut down.
Taxi: During the taxi phase, the aircraft is moving on the areodome surface under its own power prior to takeoff or landing. This includes the approach to the gate from the runway after landing as well as the approach once disengaged from the pushback/Towing to the takeoff position.
Takeoff: Takeoff includes the time from the application of takeoff power through rotation to an altitude 35 feet above runway elevation.
Initial Climb: The initial climb takes place from the end of the Takeoff to the first prescribed power reduction, or until reaching 1,000 feet above runway elevation or the visual flight rules (VFR) pattern, whichever comes first.
En Route: This is when the aircraft is in the air and flying to its destination. Under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) this is from the completion of the Initial Climb through cruise altitude and completion of controlled descent to the Initial Approach Fix (IAF). Under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) this is from completion of the Initial Climb through cruise and controlled descent to the VFR pattern altitude or 1,000 above runway elevation, whichever comes first. There are a number of sub-phases in this phase, including: Cruise to Climb; Cruise; Change of Cruise Level; Descent; and Holding.
Approach: This is when the pilots prepare to land the plane. Under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) this is from the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) to the beginning of the landing flare. Under Visual Flight Rules, this is from the point of VFR pattern entry, or 1,000 feet above runway elevation to the beginning of the landing flare.
According to an in-depth analysis by Boeing that examined commercial airplane accidents from 1959 to 2017, crashes are more likely to happen during takeoff and landing. From 2007 to 2016, nearly 50 percent of all fatal accidents occurred during descent and landing. Takeoff and the initial climb accounted for 13 percent of the fatal crashes.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of all plane crashes happen within the first three minutes of takeoff or in the last eight minutes prior to landing. This is because during these phases, the airplane is close to the ground. This makes it more vulnerable because there is less time to recover from a mistake, and the aircraft does not have all of its capabilities until it’s in the air and en route to its destination.
Only 10 percent of accidents occur while cruising. This is because this is the longest operational phase, and if an error occurs, there is time and the ability to take corrective action. When accidents do occur at this stage, they’re likely to be more dangerous for passengers. Like the en route phase, the taxi phase only contributes to 10 percent of accidents.