What is safer – an ultralight aircraft or flying with NASA?


What is safer – an ultralight aircraft or flying with NASA?


The now retired NASA space shuttles had a total of 135 take-offs (missions) and experienced two high-profile disasters – Challenger and Columbia.

 According to Dr Perera of NASA, this equates to chance of total loss of craft and crew of approximately one in seventy (1 in 70) missions e.g. take-offs. Dr Perera spoke at a Risk Management Institute of Australia (RMIA) session in Melbourne in April, as part of a national speaking tour.

NASA believe operational managers are generally best placed to mitigate risks, and therefore their risk management program is geared to support them including entering any concern or risk on their risk register, and developing and monitoring mitigation plans.

Risk management is embedded in the NASA culture for every project




Ultralight safety

Many of us are critical of the level of safety of ultralight aircraft in Australia, with one or two people killed in accidents every month or so. This accident rate is poor when compared to general aviation safety, but amazingly much safer than agreeing to fly with NASA.


Data from the Australian Ultralight Association indicate a fatal accident rate of about one per 6,600 take-offs, assuming total of 10,000 hours flown per fatality with the average flight duration of about 1.5 hours.





This makes ultralight flying about 100 times safer than the multi-billion dollar funded NASA spacecraft. Clearly the risks and challenges are much greater for space flight, but maybe you could accept that next offer for a flight in an ultralight?

Driving risk higher in US

Let’s take a quick look at fatality rates for driving on the road. In Australia about 1,200 people die as a result of road accidents per year and our population is about 23 million. This equates to one person killed per 20,000 of population. By contrast there are about 32,000 road fatalities per year in the US, which equates to one person killed per 10,000 people e.g. US population about 320 million.

Therefore the risk of travelling on the roads in the US poses twice the level of risk as similar trips in Australia. We will explore the reasons for this difference in a future edition.


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