“The number of Brits being killed by drinking is equivalent to a major plane crash every 17 days”
Daily Mirror, 2 February 2012
Today’s Daily Mirror contained the somewhat morbid statistic that alcohol-related deaths in the UK were equivalent in frequency to the death toll of a “major plane crash” every 17 days.
The figure was cited from the British Liver Trust, who have published a report into reducing alcohol harm. In it, they indeed claim that the number of alcohol related deaths in 2009 was equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every 17 days.
The report seeks to highlight the impact of heavy drinking and suggest policy and changes to pricing and regulation which might reduce the harm done.
Full Fact investigated the calculations.
The report cites recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics stating that 8,664 people died in 2009 from alcohol-related causes.
The British Liver Trust states that an average Boeing 747-400 has a capacity of 500 passengers. However using this figure, combined with the total deaths given by the ONS, would be equal to 17.33 planes per year or a plane every 21 days in a year.
Boeing’s own figures for the capacity of a 747-400 vary since the number of seats depends on their configuration. Their website refers to a maximum of 416 passengers (which means 20.83 planes, or a plane every 17.5 days), although documentation suggests that, where there is a single class configuration, the limit is 660 passengers (13.13 planes, or a plane every 28 days).
On 26 January 2012 the ONS released updated figures suggesting the total number of alcohol-related deaths in 2010 was 8,790. Using the figure of 500 passengers per plane, this would be equal to 17.58 planes – a plane every 20.8 days. Alternatively, using the lower figure of 416 passengers would be equivalent to 21.13 planes, or a plane every 17.3 days.
The statistics released by the ONS also contain data for previous years up to 1991, which show that although the number of alcohol-related deaths has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, the increase appears to be slowing:
Inevitably, there are several assumptions involved when making a comparison such as this, including whether the planes are carrying a full load and whether they all have the same seat configuration. If these are assumed, then it appears Boeing’s lower figure for the capacity of a 747-400 of 416 gives a figure closer to that provided by the British Liver Trust, even though they note a capacity of 500 passengers.
The figures originally cited by the British Liver Trust do not initially appear to be the equivalent of a Boeing 747-400 every 17 days, and the result is closer to 21 days. However, using more recent statistics and a lower estimate for the number of seats gives a result much closer to the original figure, so it is possible this was the intended calculation by the Trust anyway.