What is the safest airplane?  

– KD, BC

Any of the airplanes flown by the major airlines built in the U.S., Europe, Canada, or Brazil are safe, and modern airliners are full of safety features.

When you board an airliner, you enter a highly regulated world, crewed by highly trained people, separated by highly trained air traffic controllers that is full of safety features. Many of these safety features are not obvious to the typical passenger.

The design and certification of airliners require redundancy of critical systems, very often with multiple backup systems. An example is hydraulic systems, which powers the flight controls, retraction and extension of the landing gear, and the moveable panels on the front and back of the wing (slats and flaps). There are three independent hydraulic systems or two hydraulic systems with a standby system for use if one fails. Larger airplanes have four independent systems. The means if one system is lost it does not affect the ability to control the aircraft.

This same level of redundancy is in the electrical system (three sources of power), the pneumatic system (two or three sources of air), and the air conditioning system (two or three sources of cooling).

There is safety equipment on board for passenger medical emergencies such as a heart attack, with kits for medical professionals to use, medical oxygen and more. Additionally, the crew can reach a specially trained doctor via a satphone or radio to help determine the best action to help the passenger. The flight attendants are trained in first aid and CPR.

A frequent question is “what if an engine fails?” All airliners are certified to fly with an engine inoperative. Pilots train in nearly every simulator session flying the airplane with an inoperative engine. Today’s jet engines are very reliable, but if one does fail, the other one will power the airplane to a safe landing.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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