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Comment: I know this doesn't represent reality, it is a hypothetical scenario.


I have the impression safety measures are non-linear in cost, i.e. that reducing the accident rate by one percent costs more than the preceding percent. We often go to great lengths (and costs) to eliminate very unlikely events from happening.

Let's just assume that we would tolerate the fatality rate of aircraft to be 10 times as high as it currently is. Flying would be even more attractive and cheaper than going by car (replacing cars on more distances) and would still be statistically safer, so there would still be less fatalities overall.

Is there an estimate on how much the ticket price for end passenger could decrease if we allowed for this to happen? The usage case would be the average commercial aircraft on for instance a 2-3 hour short haul flight.

For instance:

  • Reduce number and frequency of maintenance checks.
  • Dispatch aircraft to their destinations under less stringent Minimum Equipment Lists.
  • Have lower pilot requirements.
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    $\begingroup$ Usually when there is a fatality there is also a hull-loss, that cost has to be extracted from the ticket cost as well. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak May 28 '15 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ Someone probably needs to write a thesis on this to get a decent answer. It is so very complex, but intruiging. . $\endgroup$ – Ben May 28 '15 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Though I voted to keep the question open, but I think it might not get a real answer. Most of the safety features in airplanes (and mostly in other industries) are implemented when a disaster happens or is identified to happen. Relating safety with cost may not be realistic either, as air travel has become more affordable over time, but safety features did increase. $\endgroup$ – Farhan May 28 '15 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MSalters: While there's no guarantee that insurers would just quit the business, a dramatic increase in premium reqs. would lead to a dramatic shift in marketplace dynamics, with all the consequences such events entail; insurers have ended coverage lines for such concerns in the past and aviation is no stranger to accident liability almost driving sectors to the brink of extinction. As for car accidents, however much more expensive they might be, the market has settled to where the rev. structure is sufficient to cover them, plus the same dynamics would apply in the event of such a shift. $\endgroup$ – habu May 28 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett May 28 '15 at 21:30
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Lets completely remove liability from the picture. The airlines are simply not responsible for anything that happens to the passengers, and as a result they don't care. Seatbelts, oxygen systems, escape slides - who needs them? Flight recorder? In the trash. FAA staff are cut to 20% of current levels and are mainly concerned with keeping things running smoothly (their pay is docked across the board when flights are late) and the NTSB is defunded.

Daily operating costs go down a bit. We've removed a couple of hundred kilograms of safety equipment and that will make a small dent in the fuel bill. But only a small one. The mini-Starbucks installed where the over-wing exits used to be weighs about the same. Costs related to FAA-mandated paperwork are eliminated, but only temporarily.

There's less training for the cabin crew, but we can replace the evacuation training with sales training to bump up profits from regular and duty-free sales. Hooters re-enters the air carrier industry and does quite well, as cabin crew can be transferred directly from the restaurants skipping all that troublesome FAA qualification business.

But we find that maintenance costs don't go down. Costs plummet for the first year, but then go back up as management realizes that an airplane on the ground because it won't start costs a lot more in losses than maintaining it properly to begin with. And the one that crashed on takeoff was a complete loss on the airframe ($100mil and up) along with a dent in sales for the following 6 months.

Flight recorders are reinstalled as they are actually rather useful to predict if something is going to break. It can then be replaced by the night shift. The FAA paperwork we stopped doing is also quite useful for deciding wether or not to overhaul the wheel bearings with winter-weight grease, as we wrote down when it was last done.

The flying public will see maybe 10% reduction in fares. Remember that a very large percentage of ticket costs are taxes. For example, flying out of the UK costs up to £194 just for taxes. Wether the public will accept a large decrease in oversight for a small decrease in fares, or wether the long-term accident rate actually goes up or down will be a very interesting social experiment.

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  • $\begingroup$ What if instead of the planes, we reduced the safety of terrorist attacks to an "allowable" 200% increase or something equivalent to the increase of flight fatalities caused by this - and what about all the redundant systems in the planes themselves, i.e. plane design costs $\endgroup$ – user2813274 Nov 16 '15 at 16:42
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This is a very broad question that covers many factors and may be hard to pinpoint just how much the prices could drop but lets look at a few factors.

Insurance

The minimum you would need is collateral against the plane falling out of the sky and hitting something but if you chose to have passengers sign some kind of a waiver you may be able to get away with not insuring the plane/passengers which would drop the costs. I dont have the specific numbers on how much these things cost so I wont comment on just how much it will drop.

Maintenance

Aircraft are overhauled frequently to check for issues and insure that there are no failing components. However some people have long thought that overhauling on time intervals may not really matter. There is an interesting article here about overhauling piston engines and many owners of small planes have made it past TBO issue free. If you extended maintenance intervals you could cut cost but you may also see things break more frequently. In some cases its cheaper to replace it before it breaks than after it breaks and takes a lot of other pieces with it.

Flight Training

If you cut back on crew training you could hire less experienced people you could arguably pay them less. Again you may see more accidents and thus have to end up paying more out in the end.

For what its worth you are better off with a constantly running, well maintained fleet than a broken, rickety fleet. You could always opt for standing room only flights.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd say you can't completely strike out the insurance; at least some liability insurance would still be needed as the passengers may sign the waiver but probably not the people on the ground who may be affected by a crash as well. And I presume that such an insurance causes bigger costs than that for the passengers as the potential damage on ground is hard to estimate (thus needs a really high sum insured). Just my two cents :) $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann May 28 '15 at 19:44
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One area not mentioned is in aircraft manufacturing. Right now I've heard around 40% or greater of the cost of a new airframe is the liability insurance and all the paperwork and testing for every component that the aircraft uses. Just imagine what the training and general aviation industry would be like if we went back to sane pricing for new Cessna 172s or similar... instead of broaching 360k, for a simple 4 seat trainer, could be around 180k or less.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think, if your story checks out at all, it must be referring to the R&D costs - perhaps somebody from within the industry could comment. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises May 30 '15 at 7:22

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