THIS morning’s news in Britain was dominated by pictures of a British Airways jet that caught fire just as it was about to take off from Las Vegas bound for London. First reports indicate that the blaze was caused by a faulty engine, which the cabin crew luckily managed to shut down before safely evacuating the passengers and crew. Some of the plane’s windows melted, according to those who were on board. There were no fatalities, but 13 people were taken to hospital.

This relatively happy ending stands in contrast to the deadly plane fires of the 1980s. For instance, in 1985 a fire during the aborted take-off of a British Airtours jet in similar circumstances killed 55 people. Indeed, air travel has got much safer over the past few decades, because of safety enhancements to aircraft, improvements in crew training and better maintenance. Because of a prompt evacuation by a highly trained crew, a post-crash fire on an Air France plane at Toronto International Airport in 2005 meant everyone escaped alive. As the old saying goes—which is statistically true in many places—the most dangerous part of scheduled air travel is driving to the airport in a car.

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A British Airways jet catches fire