Is it safe to fly over water?
– AB, Texas
Yes, it is safe to fly over water, and pilots around the world do it safely thousands of time a day. Today’s airliners are designed to remain safe even if they experience a malfunction, such as an engine failure.
Twin-engine airliners have engines that are so reliable that the odds of a malfunction while over water are very, very low. Should that happen, they have alternate airports designated throughout the flight path where they can land.
Generators, hydraulic pumps or systems, and pneumatic systems all have multiple redundant systems. For example, hydraulic pumps are both engine-driven and electrically driven for redundancy. Some airplanes have a ram air turbine that is lowered when electrical power is lost to provide a backup to power a hydraulic pump and limited electrical generator.
Planes also have safety equipment specifically for a water landing. Not only are there inflatable life jackets for each occupant, there are rafts (often the emergency slides at the doors are certified as rafts) and seat cushions that can be used as flotation devices.
And should the engines lose power, all airplanes can glide to a landing. The most famous example: 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson, in which Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger glided to a landing on the river after a bird strike disabled the engines on his Airbus 320 moments after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Despite the freezing January weather, all…