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Why flying is safer now

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Contrary to popular belief, most airline accidents are now survivable.

While people used words like "miraculous" to describe the fact that everyone got out alive of the Air France jet that crashed upon landing in Toronto this week, aviation experts are also crediting 20 years of advances in technology, training, and safety practices.

From improved fire retardants in the cabin to slow the spread of flames and smoke so people can be evacuated to "phenomenal" weather tracking devices that can alert crews to wind shear and violent storm cells, the combined efforts of the federal government and the aviation community have made flying far safer than ever before.

Twenty years ago, the chances of surviving a crash were indeed minimal. While the accident rate has declined only slightly since then, the seriousness of the those crashes has declined significantly.

A recent study by the National Transportation Safety Board found that of the serious commercial airline accidents that were deemed "survivable," more than three-quarters of the passengers walked out alive.

"The good news is that catastrophic crashes are happening less and less," says aviation expert Darryl Jenkins. "Planes are now made so well and pilots and crews are trained so well, a lot of things that were very problematic with airline safety are now things of the past."

Canadian investigators are examining the Airbus 340's black boxes to determine the cause of this week's crash. While none would jump to conclusions, several pilots with experience in accident investigations say they believe investigators may focus on water on the runway.

"Hydroplaning is a very significant factor," says Capt. Steve Luckey, a retired commercial airline pilot and accident investigator. "At high speeds on wet tarmac the tires aren't touching the concrete - they're basically water-skiing and with respect to that, you lose control."

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