Air travel safety is paramount to everyone from the flying public to the highest levels of government. Most people, however, have little clue how painstaking the tests are that help ensure their safety in the air and on the ground.

Air safety can, in general, be broken down into two main categories: pilot training and mechanical integrity. Pilots are tested and re-tested on a regular basis for any and all possible scenarios, in all weather conditions, while aircraft and engines are tested to extremes far beyond normal operational limits.

Many people have heard of ‘bird strike’ testing, where frozen chickens are fired at cockpit windows and aircraft engines, but more serious tests are often kept undercover by aircraft manufacturers.

One of these tests is known as a ‘blade off’ test. Although it doesn’t happen often (thankfully!), sometimes a jet engine fan blade will fail. When this occurs, it will usually destroy an engine, but if the damage is contained inside the engine casing, the plane will usually be able to continue safely on its way to the nearest airport.

In 2005, with the imminent launch of the A380 Airbus (the world’s largest airliner), the aircraft’s manufacturer lifted the lid on the normally secretive testing of catastrophic engine failures and allowed the world to see what happens.

Reducing a £9 million jet engine to a pile of junk in just seconds, the ‘blade off’ test demonstrates the lengths aircraft manufacturers will go to when designing and building new models.

Construction of the aircraft’s different components is just one part of the process, and with hundreds of in-flight tests to be performed, an aircraft’s flight-worthiness and performance will be checked and re-checked to make certain they meet with the design criteria. It takes years for aircraft to go from drawing board to being granted an air worthiness certificate.

So, next time you step onto a plane, especially if you’re a nervous flyer, just stop for a few minutes and think about the thousands of work hours and the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been spent to ensure your safety and that of your fellow passengers. It’s no wonder that flying remains the statistically safest way to travel.


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