Airplane profits – when “average” means “most dangerous.”

PhysOrg has something new for fearful flyers to obsess over. The further an airline is from its break-even point – either losing money or making a healthy profit – the safer it is to fly:

“The accident risk went down as they got further away from their financial goals in either direction,” said Peter Madsen, assistant professor of organizational leadership and strategy [at BYU’s Marriott School of Management]. “Speaking generally, airlines are safest when their financial performance is either much better or must worse than it has been in the recent past.”

The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Management, and is available online via the journal’s “OnlineFirst” feature. It looked at 133 U.S. airlines from 1990 to 2007.

Madsen’s complex statistical analysis showed that for every 10 percent deviation in an airline’s actual financial performance from its profitability goal, there is a 7 percent decrease in the likelihood of an accident.

It’s important to note that the risks Madsen studied are already minuscule.

“First-world airlines are almost incomprehensibly safe,” he said, citing other research that reported a passenger would take a domestic flight every day for 36,000 years, on average, before dying in a crash. “It would be a mistake for anyone to use my findings to try to decide which airline to fly with.”