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Tips to minimize your risk when flying

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about air safety:

Q. Which are the safest U.S. airlines?

A. There is little difference among the major airlines, according to Federal Aviation Administration records of fatal accidents between 1983 and 1994. They had 0.04 fatal accidents per 100,000 departures. Commuter airlines had a rate seven times greater and unscheduled, non-commercial planes were 47 times higher.

Q. How about accidents without deaths?

A. An unpublished FAA report showed that from January 1990 to March 1996, Northwest had 0.19 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 hours. Then came USAir (0.21), TWA (0.23), Southwest (0.24), America West (0.24), Delta (0.31), Continental (0.33), American (0.39) and United (0.42). After that, ValuJet (3.1) was noticeably less safe.

Q. Recent accidents made me worried about fires. Why can't they improve passenger cabins?

A. The FAA has issued higher inflammability standards for cabin interiors. At the current rate of new plane purchases and retrofitting, 45 percent of the U.S. aircraft fleet still will not meet the revised standards by the end of the decade, according to the General Accounting Office.

Q. What can I do to reduce risks when I book a flight?

A. Go non-stop. Takeoffs and landings are the most dangerous parts of a flight, said Mike Overly, editor of Aviation Safety Monitor, a Ohio-based newsletter. But extra stops often mean reduced fares.

Q. What should I do if I see or hear about a safety problem?

A. Inform the airline or airport manager, or call the FAA's aviation safety hot line at 1-800-255-1111.

Q. Are there some airports I should avoid?

A. Pilots don't like Washington National because of its "tricky approaches," and Los Angeles International and New York's LaGuardia because they are "overburdened," said Overly.

Q. How about overseas?

A. The main airport in Hong Kong is considered dangerous because of its densely populated location. The airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the target of complaints about its radio equipment.

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