Friday, April 11, 2014

Air Safety Reaches New Highs: Global Accident Rate For Airline Flights in 2013 Was the Lowest On Record

The Wall Street Journal

By Andy Pasztor

April 10, 2014 9:09 p.m. ET

The global accident rate for airline flights in 2013 was the lowest on record, according to an international standard-setting group, underscoring a steady improvement in airline safety despite recent attention on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The overall crash rate for scheduled commercial flights in 2013 dropped to 2.8 accidents per 1 million departures world-wide, a 13% drop from 2012 and at least a 30% decrease from rates recorded during each of the seven years before that, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the air-safety arm of the United Nations. The preliminary results were "the lowest recorded since it began tracking the global accident rate" decades ago, the organization said.

Coming after years of record-low fatalities globally, the latest report reflects how stepped-up international cooperation, enhanced collection of data and improved pilot training have yielded broad safety gains. Even when there were fatal accidents around the world in 2013, the total number of deaths dropped to 173 from 388 a year earlier. Since 2009, total world-wide fatalities dropped by more than two-thirds.

If investigators are able to unravel why the Malaysian Boeing 777 veered sharply off course, airline officials say the event is likely to put only a temporary blemish on the industry's safety record. It will be just "another strange but eventually explained incident," according to Tony Tyler, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, the industry's main global trade group.

In the U.S., the statistics are even better. Over five years ending April, American carriers flew some 3.7 billion passengers, or roughly 10 times the U.S. population, "without so much as putting a scratch on anyone" who was a passenger, Nicholas Sabatini, a former head of safety at the Federal Aviation Administration, told CNN last weekend.

Instead of using traditional safety measures such as accidents per million departures, U.S. airlines and regulators are focused on the number of fatalities across those departures. The revised standard was developed partly because based on statistics, the time planes now spend taxiing on the ground is the most dangerous part of each trip.

Africa, a perennial laggard in safety, showed significant improvement. The continent which has about 2% of global traffic, accounted for 10% of total world accidents in 2013. The U.N. body highlighted some improvements across Africa, which had one fatal accident causing 33 deaths last year, after two crashes that killed 167 people in 2012.The region's latest overall accident rate, however, was roughly four times the global average, compared with 2012 numbers that came in about 50% above the global average.

The data, coordinated more closely than before with IATA-generated safety statistics, indicate that runway-related events were the single largest category of crashes in 2013. Accidents on runways or other airport surfaces accounted for about half of all crashes, more than twice as many as the next largest category.

The ICAO has been working intensely for five years with African governments to improve safety, and the report describes "tangible results" from nine countries have addressed "significant safety concerns." But support from industry, ICAO and other sources "will still be required for safety concerns to be fully addressed," the report said.

IATA last week released its own safety report for 2013 highlighting many of the same themes, but including different statistics based on different categories of commercial aircraft. According to IATA, there was one accident that left the airplane seriously damaged for every 2.4 million flights. Regarding Africa, IATA's report said the region's serious accident rate over the past five years averaged about one crash per 155,000 flights.