Airline Accident Fatalities Up in 2020 Despite Pandemic

 - January 5, 2021, 10:03 AM

A severe drop in air traffic in 2020 did not result in fewer accident fatalities, as the air transport industry saw more deaths last year than it did in 2019 despite far fewer flights, according to Netherlands-based aviation consultancy To70. In a report released on January 1, the group noted that 299 people died in five accidents last year, compared with 257 deaths resulting from eight accidents in 2019. All told, the industry suffered 40 accidents last year compared with 86 in 2019.

While the accident rate for 2020 remains low, the circumstances around some of the accidents raise cause for concern, according to To70.

Three of the five fatal accidents in 2020 and several of the non-fatal ones relate to runway excursions. The crash of a Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 on February 5 and the accident involving an Air India Express 737-800 on August 7 both occurred in heavy rain and the Indian case involved a strong tailwind. The Pakistan Airlines A320 accident on May 22 followed an initial hard landing and go-around that appears to have damaged the engines, resulting in the undershoot on the subsequent approach. Flight performance calculations made prior to the approach and the timely use of the go-around maneuver remain key factors in accidents, said To70, which added that “more must be done” to understand the role of human factors and technology in such situations.

“Stable approaches remain a key success factor in successful landings and require all airline, ANSP, and airport stakeholders to collaborate in what is a crucial phase of flight, and more must be done to ensure this is effective,” said the report.

Separately, To70 warned of the 2020 traffic decline’s effect on human performance. “2020 has seen a significant decrease in traffic but the impact on human performance, including the wellbeing of our operational staff, has been significant, and skill fade is recognized as a critical issue for our industry as we return to normal operations,” it said.  

Priorities for 2021 should include the need to provide skill refreshers as part of training regimens through the return of normal operations, added the report, as should considerations related to the return to service of a large number of parked airplanes and maintenance work required for surfaces temporarily used for parking spaces.

“Whilst the aviation industry looks to recover in 2021 and beyond, significant efforts are being placed on assuring that the low-level of operations these past months do not adversely affect safety in the future,” concluded To70. “2021 will be a challenging year for the industry. We must not become complacent as travel restrictions ease and traffic levels increase, although we don’t expect a return to 2019 levels in some regions until 2024 or beyond. The aviation industry needs to intensify its focus on ensuring that the fundamentals of safe flight are properly addressed.”