Last year’s safety figures confirmed a trend that was becoming established over the last five years: airline safety has stopped improving, something it never did before since the Wright Brothers.
This year’s serious occurrences show no sign that this is changing for the better.
Another unwelcome fact is that more accidents are happening to aircraft registered in a country that has, on average over the decades, the world’s best safety rates: the USA. That country has now suffered four serious accidents this year so far, three of them fatal. The non-fatal accident – the US Airways Hudson River ditching - can be statistically ignored in this argument because birdstrikes that cause total power loss are not only rare, but they are what insurers would call “acts of God” – there is no protection against them and they could happen to anyone. But three fatal airline accidents in less than three months is not good for US carriers by today’s expected standards.
In February we saw the Colgan Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 crash on approach to Buffalo; and now in the last two days we have seen a chartered Pilatus PC-12 come down just short of Butte, Montana killing all on board; and finally at Tokyo Narita a FedEx Boeing MD-11F has killed both its pilots – the only people on board, in a horrific crash in which crosswind and windshear seem likely to have played a major part. My colleague Kieran Daly has listed the numerous chillingly similar occurrences that have affected MD-11s and its predecessor the DC-10 series in his blog Unusual Attitude.
Only a couple of years ago it was possible to say that serious airline accidents nowadays are happening only to second- or third-tier airlines in countries whose safety record had never been particularly good. It is no longer possible to make that claim.