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American Public Has Mixed Feelings on Airline Safety

American Public Has Mixed Feelings on Airline Safety

Pilots get most credit for efforts to maintain safety standards

by Mark Gillespie

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Even before Monday's Alaska Airlines crash in the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles, Gallup Poll findings suggested that Americans have mixed feelings about safety factors associated with flying. While most Americans have at least some confidence in airline safety standards, a relatively small number express a great deal of confidence, and these levels of confidence have dropped slightly since 1996. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who express a fear of flying has increased.

Drop in Airline Confidence May Be Linked to Recent Crashes
In May 1996, when Gallup asked Americans to rate their level of confidence in the safety standards of the major commercial airlines, 38% of Americans said they were "very confident" in the safety standards of the major commercial airlines, and an additional 54% said they were "somewhat" confident. That poll was conducted shortly after a ValuJet airliner crashed in the Florida Everglades, and approximately two months before the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island. Since then, there have been at least four other major crashes involving commercial airlines in North America, including Swissair, American Airlines, EgyptAir, and this week's Alaska Airlines crash.

Perhaps at least in part as a result of the first three of these incidents, confidence in airline safety standards declined somewhat after 1996. In a Gallup poll conducted November 4-7, 1999 (several days after the EgyptAir crash), just 33% of those polled were "very confident" in airline safety, down from 38% in 1996. At the same time, the percentage saying they were "not too confident" reached 15%, up from 5% in the 1996 poll. It can be argued that the Alaska Airlines crash will continue the downward trend in airline safety confidence; future polling will be needed to determine if this will indeed be the case.

Among the 83% of Americans who have flown on commercial airlines, fear of flying appears to have increased in the past two decades. A Gallup poll in 1983 found that only 12% of those who had flown within the previous year were afraid all or most of the time, compared with 21% who expressed that frequency of fear in the November 1999 poll. The percentage who are never fearful while flying fell from 67% in 1983 to 47% last year.

High Public Confidence in Pilots and Controllers
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,011 adults, 18 years and older, conducted November 4-7, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

When you fly, how often, if ever, are you frightened -- always, most of the time, sometimes, or never?

BASED ON -- 871 -- WHO HAVE EVER FLOWN; ± 4 PCT PTS

  Always Most of the time Sometimes Never No opinion
  % % % % %
1999 Nov 4-7 14 7 31 47 1
1999 Jul 13-14 12 6 31 50 1
1994 Dec 14 10 7 34 48 1
1989 Aug 15-18 11 5 29 54 1
1987** 12 6 30 52 0
1983** 9 3 21 67 0

** Flown in past year

How much confidence do you have in the following to do all they can to maintain air safety -- a great deal, a fair amount, not too much, or none at all? How much confidence do you have in ... ? [RANDOM ORDER]

  Great deal Fair amount Not too much None at all No opinion
  % % % % %
A. Ground maintenance crews
1999 Nov 4-7 27 52 15 4 2
1999 Jul 13-14 24 56 14 4 2
1987 Aug 25-27** 18 50 19 5 8
B. Federal government agencies
1999 Nov 4-7 18 50 22 7 3
1999 Jul 13-14 15 49 25 8 3
1987 Aug 25-27** 13 39 28 12 8
C. Regional and commuter commercial airlines
1999 Nov 4-7 19 53 18 6 4
1999 Jul 13-14 14 58 16 5 7
1987 Aug 25-27** 15 46 20 6 13
D. Commercial airline companies that fly across the country
1999 Nov 4-7 29 52 12 5 2
1999 Jul 13-14 26 58 10 4 2
1987 Aug 25-27** 24 51 13 6 6
E. Commercial airline companies that fly internationally
1999 Nov 4-7 27 51 13 4 5
F. Air traffic controllers
1999 Nov 4-7 42 44 9 3 2
1999 Jul 13-14 37 50 8 3 2
1987 Aug 25-27** 22 43 22 7 6
G. Pilots
1999 Nov 4-7 53 39 5 2 1
1999 Jul 13-14 46 45 5 2 2
1987 Aug 25-27** 41 42 10 3 4
H. The companies that manufacture commercial airplanes
1999 Nov 4-7 29 49 14 6 2
** Asked of those who had flown in the past year

How confident do you feel about the safety standards of the major commercial airlines, in general -- Very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not confident at all?

  Very confident Somewhat confident Not too confident Not at all No opinion
  % % % % %
National Adults
1999 Nov 4-7 29 51 15 5 *
Ever Flown
1999 Nov 4-7 33 52 12 3 *
1996 May 14 38 54 5 1 2
* = less than 0.5%

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