A Moment of Science

Why Airliners Don’t Provide Emergency Parachutes

There are emergency exits, emergency slides, emergency air masks and emergency flotation devices. Why not parachutes too?

The underside of a commercial airliner taking off at sunset

Photo: DCZwick (flickr)

Statistically speaking, you could fly daily for 123,000 years before being killed in an airline crash.

Have you ever wondered why airliners are equipped with parachutes? Well, there are several reasons.

One problem is that most commercial planes fly at a speed of about five hundred miles per hour. Jumping from a plane going that fast would crush you. And even if the plane did slow down, you’d be jumping at an altitude of over forty thousand feet, where the atmosphere is so thin you’d need a special oxygen supply to keep you alive until you got lower down.

Another issue is that most commercial airplane accidents happen during take-off or landing, when the plane hasn’t reached an altitude high enough to enable parachuting. What’s more, the plane would need special in-flight exits that would allow you to clear the plane without bumping into the wings.

And all that’s before we even begin to consider the logistics of getting dozens of people into their parachutes and out of the plane.

Read More:

  • Airline Industry at Its Safest Since the Dawn of the Jet Age (New York Times)
  • VIDEO: Physics of Skydiving (YouTube)
  • Zac H.

    Still way better than crash landing most of the time. You have made good points but if the pilot knows the plane is going down and everyone is going to die anyways there should still be shutes to give them a fighting chance. Pretty sure I’d rather try my luck with a shute on the fly(no pun intended) than dying in a fiery inevitable inferno on the ground

  • pbr90

    If airplanes were people transport only, not baggage transport or flying canteens, wonder if flights would be faster, cheaper, and more profitable than not, given the need for less fuel because of excess weight requirements to get “lift”?

    Why not buy great pilots, excellent oversight, route schedulers, and leave restaurants and baggage to ground transports?

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