How 2012 was a freak year for safety

According to Flightglobal’s Ascend consultancy, 2012 was an anomalous year for world airline safety. It was so good compared with all previous years that it is unlikely to be equalled for some time, let alone beaten, Ascend predicts.

That does not mean airline safety performance will inevitably get worse. Indeed, it will probably continue, albeit gradually, to get better, but only according to a five-year – or even decade – moving average.

The logic behind this reasoning is simple. The figures, derived according to commonly accepted criteria for airline fatal accident rates, imply that 2012 was almost twice as safe as 2011, the respective rates being one fatal accident every 2.3 million flights compared with one every 1.4 million. Since, over that two-year period, the industry did not implement any safety measures that could account for such a dramatic improvement, the conclusion is that the 2012 figures are a fluke, and the 2013 figures, when we review them in a year’s time, are likely to look like a step backward.

As in recent years, 2012 accidents were almost all precipitated by pilot misjudgements or mismanagement. Pilots are the system’s goalkeeper, but the system keeps banging own-goals past them. The solution can only be a fundamental review of the knowledge and skills needed by the modern airline pilot – but, troublingly, no such review is happening.

(The above first appeared as a leading article in Flight International 8 January 2013)


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