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It is becoming accepted that the Boeing 777 is the world's safest aircraft. There must be a reason for this of course, and aircraft designers should know it.

So my question is, can't we take all the safety merits of a B777 and copy them into other models and bring all airplanes to the same level of safety?

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retro fitting things into older airplanes is very expensive and not always possible –  ratchet freak Mar 17 '14 at 14:22
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Why down vote? As an aviation enthusiast to me the question seems pertinent. –  Fabrizio Mazzoni Mar 17 '14 at 14:43
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The safest airliner is the one that is built, towed into a hangar, and never flown, but you'll recall the old nautical adage: "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." –  voretaq7 Mar 17 '14 at 15:20
    
As soon as we figure out how to transfer luck, we really should do this! –  Peter Kämpf May 5 at 12:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

What's the "safest aircraft" depends in large part on who operates it, how they operate it, and where.
For many operators the 777 will be their prestige airliner, being assigned the most senior, most experienced, crews, the best maintenance, etc. etc..
That alone will mean less incidents and accidents than other types. They also have the range and ceiling to be able to fly around or over most serious weather. A 30 minute detour on a 10 hour trip can be made up, a 30 minute detour on a 1 hour trip in a 737 or A320 can't be (even if the aircraft would have the spare fuel to fly that detour).

The rest is mostly statistics. I seriously doubt there have been statistically more accidents per hour flown or per rotation on say an A340 as compared to a 777. There have been more airframe losses, but those include several lost on the ground due to them being stuck on airports in warzones (think what happened on Sri Lanka where Tamil separatist mortar bombs destroyed several airliners on the ground, damaging the until then flawless safety record of the type).

There have been AFAIK 3 777 hull losses (including the missing MH370) in flight.
Given the far higher number of say 737s in operation, and the far longer service history of that type, often with operators with shady operational procedures (more than a few are for example blacklisted by the EU) it's little surprise there have been more hull losses among the type. But comparing say the 737-900 only with the 777, with somewhat similar technology and number in service, as well as similar prestige level for crew assignments, you'll find a similar safety record.

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+1, I also think that that the 777 experiences a lower number of pressurisation cycles in the course of its lifetime than a shorter range 737. This makes it less susceptible to airframe stress and cracks than a 737. –  shortstheory Mar 17 '14 at 15:33
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@shortstheory both pressurization and takeoff/landing cycles have a lot to do with stress and wear. As 777s are basically exclusively long haul, they see much fewer of both. –  egid Mar 18 '14 at 3:30
    
@shortstheory true, but then the 737 also will encounter more frequent depot level maintenance. Maintenance during which there are checks performed for just those things IF procedures are followed correctly. –  jwenting Mar 18 '14 at 15:37
    
The 777 is also fairly new, at only 20 years old - that means they have fairly up to date safety features, and that they aren't being flown around far-flung, lightly regulated parts of the world by small cargo carriers and cowboy airlines. –  Jon Story Dec 15 '14 at 17:12
    
@jwenting; a lot of things that get stressed by pressurization aren't part of a normal ground crew's checklist between flights, and that means they'd have to be obvious to be spotted. Those kinds of maintenance checks happen after a certain number of total hours in the air, regardless of whether the airframe spent those hours on X long-haul flights to Dubai or X * 10 business hops from Dallas to Houston. –  KeithS May 4 at 23:39

The "safety" of an aircraft is a function of the entire aircraft, from concept to design to manufacturing and assembly, and also of the people who fly it.

Very old anecdote; in one of the very first "evaluations" performed on competing pre-production aircraft to determine the one an air service should buy, Manfred von Richthofen flew what would become the Fokker D.VII. He stated the plane was very unstable, especially in a dive. As a result, the fuselage was lengthened by one box section (about 2-3 feet). Only very minor modifications were made elsewhere. On flying the modified prototype, Richthofen said it was the best craft he'd ever flown, and on this recommendation the D.VII entered service and became so feared that the Armistice specifically ordered the surrender of all German D.VIIs to the Allied forces. So, just this one change to the airframe turned an underpowered, temperamental aircraft into the most successful fighter design of WWI.

Fast-forward 97 years or so, and not much has really changed regarding this basic tenet. What has changed is the inherent amount of complexity in the average aircraft. We think of something like a Piper Cub as being fairly simple, and compared to an F-15 or a 747, they are, but even relatively inexpensive modern hobbyist planes have avionics, radio systems etc that put the original J-3s to shame. More complexity means more that can go wrong, even when the complexity is specifically designed to lower pilot workload.

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