Recent Period Safest for Airlines in Modern History

 - January 5, 2012, 12:28 PM
Accident statistics showing total accidents (in red) and 10-year averages (blue) indicate a steady improvement in air transport safety over the last 65 years. (Graph courtesy of Aviation Safety Network)

The last three months of 2011 saw “the longest period without a fatal airliner accident in modern aviation history,” according to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), an independent internet aviation safety information agency. As of January 1, the industry had gone 80 straight days without a fatal incident, said Harro Ranter, president of ASN, whose data relates to multi-engine commercial aircraft operations (including positioning and training flights).

The Netherlands-based agency—an exclusive service of the Flight Safety Foundation—recorded 507 fatalities among the crew and passenger occupants of 28 accidents (plus 14 people killed on the ground), making 2011 the second safest year by loss of life and third safest in the number of accidents. (The network’s analysis excludes military and corporate-jet accidents, as well as hijackings and other criminal occurrences.)

ASN noted that the year saw the first fatal accidents involving the Antonov An-148 regional jet and Xian MA60 turboprop (in Russia and Indonesia, respectively) and the largest number of deaths ever (22) in a Saab 340 accident (which took place in Argentina). The worst event involved 77 fatalities in an Iran Air Boeing 727 accident in Iran last January (other sources record a separate 727 event in the Congo, which resulted in another 77 fatalities).

The 2011 figures compare with a 10-year annual average of 30 fatal airliner accidents, resulting in an average of 785 fatalities. Fatal accidents for 2008 to 2011 totaled 32, 30, 29 and 28, respectively. Against the 2001-2010 average of 16 fatal passenger flights, the number of such accidents last year proved “relatively high” at 19, despite the lower number of fatalities, according to ASN.

The data shows that 25 percent of the 2011 fatal accidents—seven out of 28—involved operators on the European Union (EU) “black list,” compared with just over 20 percent—six from 29—in 2010. During last year, the EU introduced nine airlines to the list and deleted three operators following an improvement in safety by the latter carriers.

Considering commercial-aviation safety by geographic location, ASN noted a “very bad year” for Russia, which suffered six fatal accidents.

Africa, which registered a decline in airliner accidents, accounted for 14 percent—about one in seven—of all such fatal 2011 events, even though the continent generates only about 3 percent of all departures.

Beyond its overall accident analysis, ASN noted one attempted hijacking and four events involving other “criminal occurrences.”