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Are Planes Safe Right Now? Here’s What the Experts Say.

Are Planes Safe Right Now? Here’s What the Experts Say.

Smoke in the cabin. A tire blowout. A cracked windshield. No shortage of problems can affect a flight, fueling traveler anxiety and contributing to thousands of daily delays and cancellations around the world.

But for all of the frustration and alarm such events cause, it can be difficult to interpret and understand their severity. Here’s how aviation safety experts say travelers should think about disruptions when they occur.

Several alarming air travel incidents have made headlines in recent weeks — a sharp plunge toward an ocean, an unnerving wobble that damaged the tail of a plane and an aborted departure after an apparent engine fire.

But the most common mishaps and malfunctions, even if hair-raising, are not typically severe, experts said.

A hydraulic leak, for example, is a familiar occurrence that pilots take seriously, but it is not as disruptive as it may sound. That’s because planes have backup hydraulic systems, which are used to power equipment like the landing gear, brakes, wing flaps and flight controls, allowing planes to take off, fly and land. A plane veering off a runway, in what is known as a runway excursion, makes for captivating video and a possibly terrifying experience for those on board. But it doesn’t necessarily cause significant damage to an airplane or threaten the safety of those on board.

The same is true of the wide range of mechanical or maintenance issues that can come up before takeoff, which might force a pilot to hold a plane at its gate or return to the gate from taxiing. Those incidents are important to understand and address, but they are often minor, experts said.

“The pilots are saying, ‘I’ve been highly trained, I’m highly educated in this airplane, and we have to return to the gate and get the experts involved out of an abundance of caution,’” said Shawn Pruchnicki, a former airline pilot and an assistant professor at the Center for Aviation Studies at Ohio State University. “That is the system working perfectly. That’s a good thing.”

Sometimes, such problems can derail a flight or take an airplane out of commission. But in other cases, they can be fixed quickly. And because airplanes are packed with fail-safes, there are times when a flight with a malfunctioning system can safely proceed simply by relying on one or more backups instead.

Flying is a complex, gravity-defying feat that’s repeated thousands of times each day in a wide range of conditions. So travelers should…

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