Posted by: Korry | September 19, 2011

Is 99.999% Really Good Enough?

99.999%. It’s about as close to 100% as you can get. If something is 99.999% likely to happen, then it will NOT happen only once in 100,000 times. 99.999% is just about as close to perfection as you can get, and for most things in our lives, 99.999% is good enough. Heck, I’d bet that for most things, 99.0% is good enough. But when it comes to conducting safe flights, even 99.999% isn’t good enough.

For example, if just one of the major airlines were only 99.999% safe, it would have approximately one accident every 17 days. That translates into 21 accidents per year! And if you expand that same safety percentage to the US airline industry as a whole, the accident frequency and total number of accidents per year would skyrocket.

Thankfully, US airlines aren’t just 99.999% safe. They’re WAY better than that.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), there have been just 6 fatal accidents since 2001 involving air carriers (excluding the terrorist acts of September 11). And since 2007, there has been only one single fatal accident for US air carriers. Furthermore, if the data pool excludes regional and charter operators and instead includes only major US airlines, you have to go all the way back to November of 2001 to find even one fatal accident (American Airlines Flight 587). Of course it wasn’t always that way. Between 1991 and 2000 there were 13 fatal accidents involving major legacy carriers. Prior to that, the number of fatal accidents was even higher despite a significantly lower number of flights per year. That’s still better than 99.999%…and I’m guessing that’s probably something you’re glad to hear!

So is that just luck or is there more to this story? How are airlines and airline pilots able to remain so safe, flight after flight, year after year? And even more importantly, how does this have anything to do with your life other than to hopefully inspire confidence to get on an airplane and fly somewhere? The answers as I see them are as follows: A) This ain’t luck…there is definitely a LOT more to this story, B) Airlines and airline pilots have spent amazing amounts of time and resources changing how they do their jobs so they can enjoy their nearly perfect safety records, and C) This has everything to do with your life…and living an even better one!

Don’t get me wrong: pilots aren’t perfect (Please don’t tell my coworkers I admitted it!!) and neither are airlines. But when it comes to the really big things—the life and death things—they do those things pretty darn well…over and over again, for days, weeks, months and even years on end. I believe that the same skills and strategies that have helped the airlines and pilots in particular get so safe and consistent are the same skills and strategies that you can use in your personal or professional life to help ensure success. Most if not all of them aren’t rocket science; rather, they’re simple things that make a big difference. Over the coming months, I’m going to talk about a lot of these principles right here.

And on Thursday, I’m going to start with the one that inspired this blog: the flight plan.



  1. Hey Korry, you’ve got a pretty nice web page here. I love it, and will read it frequently.
    One question though – ‘Life’s Flight plan’ – is that a VFR or IFR flight plan?? You’re flying IFR all the time, but most of we civilians are probably flying VFR in our daily lives, except for the few that are totally in the dark!!

    • Good question, Hartley! And funny you should ask that, too, because I’m going to talk about that exact point on Thursday!

  2. Edwards Demming would be proud.

    Bob R

  3. Jen didn’t leave when she found out you weren’t perfect did she??

    • Nope! Thankfully, she hasn’t figured that out yet!! 🙂

  4. […] devastatingly costly mistakes in basic hand-flying airmanship. But as I mentioned last Monday here, the vast percentage of pilots fly their airplanes incredibly skillfully day in and day out, […]

  5. […] Billy Beane a success is the same thing that made the airlines so successful at what they do (see here) and it’s also the same thing that can help to make your personal or professional life a success, […]

  6. […] successful flight improving our better than 99.999% safety […]

  7. […] weeks ago, I admitted here a very hard truth to swallow (at least for me!): pilots aren’t perfect…and the data […]

  8. […] it’s very unlikely. (Remember, we pilots do our jobs safely over 99.999% of the time). But if you’re ever in a situation that requires an emergency evacuation, […]

  9. […] There is no doubt that simulators have played a HUGE role in helping pilots maintain that 99.999% safety rating. So when the pilot finishes training and heads to the airport, it’s ok that he’s flying […]

  10. […] mechanics, air traffic controllers, and even passengers like you! To make us greater than 99.999% successful, we have to work towards a common vision and work together to achieve our objectives. And while we […]

  11. […] That may sound crazy coming from me, but it’s true. With safety ratings far better than 99.999%, thousands of flights take off and land safely every day, which for an airline pilot, means things […]

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