Is “IATA” going to be the quality mark for airlines?

One highly desirable commodity that the airline industry has never been able to market is safety.

Even an airline that was confident of its safety performance didn’t dare brag about it. To talk about safety was to imply that flying was inherently dangerous, and since many passengers are naturally nervous about getting airborne, airline marketing messages concentrated on comfort and reliability.

IATA may now be changing all that in a subtle way.

Good old IATA. It’s always been there, and its member airlines knew what it was for, but the travelling public, by and large, did not – and still do not. 

In fact until the gradual process of market liberalisation began in the 1980s, IATA was vilified by the Western press and many politicians as nothing more than a cartel.

But in recent years it has become more than a lobbyist on behalf of the industry. It has taken upon itself the task of policing standards among its member airlines, and throwing them out if they don’t – or can’t – perform to specification.

Safety has been the starting point, with the introduction of the compulsory biennial IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Airlines which failed it – not a high percentage of the total membership – were ejected.

IATA member airlines always had a lower accident rate than the world average, but this year, as the IOSA programme’s benefits start to kick in, that difference is getting dramatic. In 2010 to 30 November, the world jet accident rate was 0.66 hull losses per million departures, but for IATA carriers it was 0.28 – more than twice as good.

Incidentally, 0.66 hull losses per million departures is very safe in historical terms, so the IATA standard is high indeed.

Some airlines used to put the IATA logo on their aircraft near the boarding door, but many have stopped because passengers don’t know what it signifies.

But if it comes to be seen as the stamp of quality, conferring passenger confidence that safety is as good as it can realistically be, maybe members will start painting it onto their aeroplanes again.


One Response to Is “IATA” going to be the quality mark for airlines?

  1. Pedro H. 17 December, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Mr. Learmount, thank you for your blog posts, and RR’s contacts with you in particular. I do like to try to be well informed about any operation in which I place complete trust for my life in the hands of the operator. That’s regardless of whether it might be under general anaesthetic & the knife, or [I hope just mildly under] while sitting in a ‘plane seat.

    I gather that the skipper & other four pilots in the QF32 incident did an outstanding job in returning everyone on board to the origin alive & unharmed.

    For folk like me, who care deeply about arriving at the destination …. for us, freely accessible, factual information on measures of safety would be interesting – more particularly if it showed comparative performance of operators [within or without the IATA fold] and their equipment. A more rational person than I may be totally indifferent to this knowledge because the probability of crisis & catastrophe is almost infinitesimal. Perhaps RR relies on these persons to keep their customers afloat and aloft? Then I certainly lack both that rationality and their indifference.

    And to the A-mod Trent 900 on QF32: with respect to A-, B- and C-mod versions: How did RR come by the C-mod? To borrow a phrase from the Watergate era: “What did [RR] know and when did [they] know it?”