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Two reports reveal world’s safest mode of transport

January 3, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

It’s safer than driving or cycling; it’s safer than buses or trains. It’s safer than sailing – it’s even safer than walking. So what is it?

The answer is flying – or to be precise, flying in commercial passenger jets. It has never been so safe.

Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year, a figure that’s impossible to beat, making 2017 the safest year ever.

The Aviation Safety Network (ASN), an independent organisation located in the Netherlands, yesterday released the 2017 airliner accident statistics showing an extremely low total of 10 fatal airliner accidents, resulting in 44 deaths.

Five accidents involved cargo flights and five were passenger flights in small turbo-prop planes. Given the expected worldwide air traffic of about 36,800,000 flights, the accident rate is one fatal passenger flight accident per 7.36 million flights.

The low number of accidents comes as no surprise, according to ASN President Harro Ranter: “Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organisations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry.”

Commercial jet aviation – safer than ever

On 31 December 2017, aviation had a record period of 398 days with no passenger jet airliner accidents. Additionally, a record period of 792 days passed since the previous civil aircraft accident claiming over 100 lives.

The past year was another exceptionally good year for civil aviation safety. With only two fatal accidents to passenger airliners, both involving small turbo-prop planes, 2017 was much better than could reasonably (and statistically) be expected, and was again better than 2016’s remarkable performance.

MEANWHILE another aviation group, To70, released its Civil Aviation Safety Review, which examines accidents only to larger passenger aircraft commonly used by most travellers, and excludes cargo aircraft. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America.

The To70 review includes all causes, whether technical failure, human error or unlawful interference. In 2017, only two fatal accidents were reported. There were no accidents in 2017 related to unlawful interference.

A total of 13 lives were lost in two regional airline accidents:

  • An Embraer Brasilia lost control in flight in Angola after, reportedly, suffering an engine failure, and
  • A Czech-built Let 410 crashed on landing at Nelken in Russia.

An estimated 3% growth in air traffic for 2017 over 2016 means that the fatal accident rate for large aeroplane in commercial air transport is again reduced; this time to 0.06 fatal accidents per million flights. That is a rate of one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.

Risks remain however. With so few fatal accidents to examine, To70 points out that it’s worth remembering that there were also several quite serious non-fatal accidents in 2017. A number of engine related accidents occurred, including the spectacular loss of the engine inlet fan and cowling on an Air France A380.

Despite the good news, To70 sounded a note of caution.

“Whilst the safety levels of modern civil passenger airplanes remain high, the extraordinarily low accident rate this year must be seen as a case of good fortune. Statistically speaking, in a dataset that starts with over thirty million flights, there is little difference between two accidents and 10 accidents. That this year’s accidents only resulted in 13 fatalities is even greater fortune.

“There is no room for complacency. Civil aviation, whilst an industry with a very high level of safety, does still carry very large risks.”

Written by Peter Needham

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