Aircraft accident rates down in 2014 despite disasters

Despite the tremendous impact of the twin Malaysia Airlines disasters, 2014 ranked as one of the safest years on record in terms of jet accident rates, according to new data released by peak industry body the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The 2014 global jet accident rate (measured in hull losses per 1 million flights) was 0.23, the equivalent of one accident for every 4.4 million flights. This was an improvement over 2013 when the global hull loss rate stood at 0.41 (an average of one accident every 2.4 million flights) and also an improvement over the five-year rate (2009-2013) of 0.58 hull loss accidents per million flights jet.

Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 (photo by hasrullnizam)
Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 (photo by hasrullnizam)

There were 12 fatal accidents involving all aircraft types in 2014 with 641 fatalities, compared with an average of 19 fatal accidents and 517 fatalities per year in the five-year period (2009-2013).

The 2014 jet hull loss rate for members of IATA was 0.12 (one accident for every 8.3 million flights), which outperformed the global average by 48% and which showed significant improvement over the five-year rate of 0.33.

“Any accident is one too many and safety is always aviation’s top priority. While aviation safety was in the headlines in 2014, the data show that flying continues to improve its safety performance,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO.

The year 2014 will be remembered for two extraordinary and tragic events — MH 370 and MH 17. Although the reasons for the disappearance and loss of MH 370 are unknown, it is classified as a fatal accident — one of 12 in 2014.

The aviation industry has welcomed the proposal by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to move towards the adoption of a performance-based standard for global tracking of commercial aircraft, supported by multi-national operational assessments to evaluate impact and guide implementation.

The destruction of MH 17 by anti-aircraft weaponry, however, is not included as an accident under globally-recognised accident classification criteria. The four aircraft involved in the events of 9.11 were treated in the same way.

“The shooting down of MH 17 took with it 298 lives in an act of aggression that is by any measure unacceptable. Governments and industry have come together to find ways to reduce the risk of over-flying conflict zones. This includes better sharing of critical information about security risks to civil aviation. And we are calling on governments to find an international mechanism to regulate the design, manufacture and deployment of weapons with anti-aircraft capabilities,” said Tyler.

“To the flying public an air tragedy is an air tragedy, regardless of how it is classified. In 2014 we saw a reduction in the number of fatal accidents — and that would be true even if we were to include MH 17 in the total. The greatest tribute that we can pay to those who lost their lives in aviation-related tragedies is to continue our dedication to make flying ever safer. And that is exactly what we are doing,” said Tyler.

In terms of the raw numbers:

– More than 3.3 billion people flew safely on 38.0 million flights (30.6 million by jet, 7.4 million by turboprop)

– 73 accidents (all aircraft types), down from 81 in 2013 and the five-year average of 86 per year

– 12 fatal accidents (all aircraft types) versus 16 in 2013 and the five-year average of 19

– 16% of all accidents were fatal, below the five-year average of 22%

– 7 hull loss accidents involving jets compared to 12 in 2013 and the five-year average of 16

– Three fatal hull loss accidents involving jets, down from six in 2013, and the five-year average of eight

– 17 hull loss accidents involving turboprops of which nine were fatal

– 641 fatalities compared to 210 fatalities in 2013 and the five-year average of 517.

All regions saw their safety performance improve in 2014 compared to the respective five-year rate 2009-2013 as follows:

  1. Africa (from 6.83 to 0.00)  ;
    2. Asia-Pacific (from 0.63 to 0.44);
    3. CIS (from 2.74 to 0.83);
    4. Europe (from 0.24 to 0.15);
    5. Latin America and the Caribbean (from 0.87 to 0.41);
    6. Middle East-North Africa (1.82 to 0.63);
    7. North America (from 0.20 to 0.11)
    8. North Asia (from 0.06 to 0.00).

CIS had the worst performance (0.83) among regions, but it showed strong improvement over three consecutive years: 6.34 (2011), 1.91 (2012), 1.79 (2013).

Historically, aviation safety has improved through a well-established process of accident investigations that identify the probable causes and recommend mitigation measures. However, as aviation becomes ever safer, there are so few accidents that they cannot yield the trend data that is vital to a systemic risk-based approach to improving safety.

Future safety gains will come increasingly from analysing data from the more than 38 million flights that operate safely every year, rather than just the handful of flights where something goes wrong.

To support this requirement, IATA has created the Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) programme as a comprehensive safety data warehouse. GADM includes analysis reports covering accidents, incidents, ground damage, maintenance and audits, plus data from nearly 2 million flights and over 1 million air safety reports. More than 470 organisations, including more than 90% of IATA member airlines, are participating in at least one GADM database.

“The GADM programme will enhance aviation’s ability to identify areas of concern before they rise to the level of potential threats. Stakeholders are committed to advancing safety through a data-driven approach supported by cooperation and reliance on global standards and best practices,” said Tyler.

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