2020 Accident Rate Raises Questions about Covid’s Safety Effect

 - March 25, 2021, 2:13 PM

While the total number of airline accidents unsurprisingly fell last year, the airline industry’s total accident rate of 1.71 per million flights exceeded the average over the last five years by 0.33 per million, prompting the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to call for a “sharper focus” on safety.

Releasing its 2020 airline safety performance report on Thursday, IATA said the total number of accidents declined from 52 in 2019 to 38 last year, as Covid-related traffic reductions meant fewer opportunities for crashes and other incidents. Total flights fell 53 percent to 22 million in 2020, but the number of accidents declined by only 27 percent. Still, the fatality risk remained unchanged compared with the five-year average of 0.13.

“Flying is safe, although the industry did take a step back on performance in 2020,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “The severe reduction in flight numbers magnified the impact of each accident when we calculate rates. But numbers don’t lie, and we will not allow this to become a trend. We will have even sharper focus on safety during this period of reduced operations and as flight schedules are rebuilt when the world reopens.”

For the first time in more than 15 years, no loss of control inflight (LOC-I) accidents occurred; those have accounted for the largest share of fatalities since 2016. “The lack of any such events in 2020 was a positive development,” added de Juniac. “Nevertheless, based on the initial reports from the investigation into the tragic loss of Sriwijaya Air SJ 182 early in 2021, we must continue to learn and improve.”

IATA singled out sub-Saharan Africa as a region of particular concern, as the region experienced six accidents last year, two of which proved fatal. Both involved turboprop aircraft. Although the number of fatal accidents stood unchanged from 2019, the fatality risk increased due to the drop in flight numbers last year. The region experienced no hull losses involving jet aircraft last year. 

The association called for an acceleration of Africa’s implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) safety-related standards and recommended practices (SARPS). At year-end 2020, some 28 African countries (61 percent of the total) registered at least a 60 percent SARPS implementation, unchanged from 2019. “While we recognize the extraordinary challenges in 2020 that touched on all aspects of aviation, we hope that we will see additional movement in this number as the pandemic recedes,” said de Juniac.