Simon Calder: Despite this disaster, low-cost flights remain a generally safe way to travel

The lower the fare, the higher the risk? After yesterday's crash in Greece involving a small, low-cost airline that question is bound to be raised by many. But the evidence from 35 years of no-frills flying suggests little correlation between cheap fares and fatal accidents. And even though yesterday's tragedy follows closely on the destruction of an Air France Airbus at Toronto, flying remains one of the safest of all human activities.

It is too early to speculate on whether cost-cutting contributed to the Helios Airways crash. Certainly, no-frills airlines seek to squeeze out cost wherever they can from their businesses; in an industry that is chronically unprofitable and increasingly competitive, cutting a pound or two in airport fees or inflight service can spell the difference between success and failure.

Some speculate that low-cost airlines must inevitably economise on safety - and that by paying a higher fare you must in some sense be buying a safer product. Yet the ValuJet disaster was a rare exception. "If you think safety is expensive", runs the unspoken mantra among the no-frills airlines, "try having an accident".

The giants of low-cost aviation in Europe, easyJet and Ryanair, have each flown about 100 million passengers since they began. Neither has suffered a fatal crash.

"Enormous amounts of money and manpower are invested in ensuring that we operate safer aircraft to safer airports with well-trained crews", says the greatest cost-cutter in the business, Michael O'Leary. Ryanair's chief executive says bluntly: "You don't have a business unless it's safe. Nobody would ever compromise on safety."

Even Ryanair's excellent record is eclipsed by Southwest Airlines, the original low-cost airline. Since its first flight in 1971, the Dallas-based carrier has flown over one billion passengers without incident.

"I wish I could bottle their secret and pass it around to everyone in the world," says Dr Todd Curtis, the aviation safety expert who runs the AirSafe.com website. "They have a very solid operation, run by a very straightforward group of people." The only aircraft Southwest has ever operated is the Boeing 737, the type that crashed yesterday. It was the 55th 737 to be lost in a fatal accident, but that needs to be set against the number of safe missions accomplished; the 737 has flown more passenger flights than any other aircraft.

Next Monday marks 20 years since the last fatal crash involving a BA aircraft, coincidentally also a 737. The Boeing was accelerating along the runway at Manchester when fire broke out in one engine. It quickly spread to the fuselage, and 55 people died.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits