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With literally every single electronics device that I have bought in the last X years breaking very quickly or immediately, and being of horrible quality, this thought keep popping up in my mind:

If they really wanted to, meaning money is not an issue whatsoever, could they manufacture an air plane which is 100% fail-safe, and thus cannot possibly crash or fail to take its passengers and crew from the pre-determined points A and B?

I'm not trying to make this into a "trick" question of some kind. We are not talking about any "lab conditions" or special rules of any kind. It has to be a commercial jumbo jet, but without the issue of money and with the determination of everyone involved to actually make this indestructible and 100% fail-safe air plane.

The fuselage would be impossible to break, even if it somehow crashed. The engines (naturally, they would be four or more) would have specially designed parts made from the most durable materials that exist or can be made with our current knowledge. All kinds of safety measures and maintenance checks can be freely added since there is unlimited funding. One could even replace the entire plane with a brand new identical model for every single flight, just to further increase the likelihood that something did (somehow) wear out from the one voyage the previous plane made.

The requirement is that this plane never crashes or kills or hurts anyone, no matter how many birds come flying into every engine constantly, no matter the extreme weather, and even if all 48 onboard redundant backup-pilots die at the same time. In fact, every single passenger is a pilot.

Of course, this is a very theoretical and implausible question, but it somehow feels to me as if they could achieve a perpetual perfect score of "zero major indicents" if this madness were to be attempted. (Which it obviously never will.)

It genuinely frightens me to think about what kind of greedy people run these companies, and that I am at their cost-cutting mercy to not look out through the window and notice how the jet engines are falling apart mid-flight because they skimped on the routine inspections and some stupid little detail broke because they cannot possibly "do it properly" under these economic constraints.

I also very much wonder if private jets used by billionaires have special, much better and more expensive parts and stricter maintenance checks than what commercial jumbos have. I imagine that this must be the case, because they can afford to "buy safety".

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    $\begingroup$ @coron - suspect because a 100% safe anything is impossible, it is still vulnerable to a dinosaur killer asteroid, heat death of universe etc. The question might be more sense if you asked how much risk is accepted in aircraft design, which is something hashed out during the 737 Max saga. The last part is a separate question, and by asking it as written you are saying the people who could answer are either incompetent or criminal so would be better with some tweaking - there is a good question in 'are business jets safer because money' but needs to be pulled into a standalone question. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2022 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ The second part of your question is based on a false premise. Air travel is actually extremely safe because of strict regulation and the need for airlines to maintain a good reputation. Private jets aren't maintained any better. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Dec 31, 2022 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ I am voting to close because this question can only be answered with opinions. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2022 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't DV because it would feel like piling on at this point, but to add to the other (accurate) speculation on why you are getting downvoted, you come across as someone with an axe to grind and/or an irrational fear of air travel. The modern aviation industry is not perfect, no business ever is, but it is a remarkable feat of engineering that is operating at an extremely high, (and VERY safe) level. Your question reads like a rant in favor of the impossible. (i.e. "they could guarantee my safety 100% if only they weren't so greedy...") $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2022 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Coron, modern cars are far more reliable than old ones, yet they still break down. We don't say 'they're reliable until they aren't'. Reliability is a statistic, safety is a statistic, safer flight means there's less likelihood of something going wrong. However, you probably know this, as you almost certainly know that achieving 100% safety is impossible, yet you still asked the question. I suspect that's why you have so many downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 1 at 17:50

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The acceptable standard for risk of a complete airframe loss following a single failure event, like a structural break, or critical system failure, is 10⁻⁹, or one in one billion. That is the FAR 25 standard for transport category airplanes (basically one total loss crash in one billion flights, resulting from a single mechanical/electrical/structural event, is the acceptable standard that you design to).

The risk is determined by mathematical analysis of the affected system and follow-on effects triggered by an initiating event. If you can't a achieve 10⁻⁹ probability, you have to add redundancy, like a backup system or component, or a secondary load path in a structure.

That value is a trade-off between safety and useability.

You can get that number to an even lower probability if you really want to, say one in a trillion, but the plane will be so heavy and costly to operate it's not worth the trouble. And to get the probability to zero is impossible from a practical standpoint, unless the plane just sits in a museum.

As it is, crashes due to single element failures are so rare as to be not worth accounting for. (737 MAX fiasco was rooted in a basic defect of the safety analysis itself and the system architecture designed around it, combined with insufficient oversight, so it can be considered an anomaly from a design perspective).

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  • $\begingroup$ An engine failure in a twin jet is entirely survivable, but only if the crew follows proper procedures, beginning with "maintain aircraft control" and proceeding from there. The NTSB has stated that both Max aircraft that crashed were entirely flyable, if only the two crews had followed the proper procedures. Boeing did many things wrong in implementing MCAS, but even with all of that, the planes were every bit as flyable as one that experienced a V1 cut or a manual reversion or any number of other things that are known to occur with some (low, but non-zero) regularity. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 4 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, but the architecture defect can be considered to have increased the probability to more than one in a billion. Had the safety analysis been done properly, there would have been two AOA inputs and they'd have to live with a reliability hit and probably lose the in-the-background-operating concept requiring no training. They were piggybacking the safety analysis on the Stab Runaway failure mode. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jan 4 at 6:05

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