Why aviation is safe: it’s not what you think

The exceptionally low fatalities total in the first six months of 2013 is not the result of low accident numbers. The same period last year saw exactly the same number of crashes but more than four times the casualties.

For more detail, register free as a member of the FG Club and you can see the full analysis for the first six months of this year.

It’s just that. this year, the fatal accidents have happened mostly to small aeroplanes, and when a big one was involved, the massively improved crash survivability built into modern hulls and aircraft furniture really worked.  About 30 years ago an accident like the Lion Air Boeing 737-800 crash in shallow water on short final approach would have killed many or even all of those on board, but this time everyone survived it.

And since that accident an Asiana 777 has suffered a potentially catastrophic crash on landing at San Francisco. The aircraft actually cartwheeled at high speed before the hull slid to a halt, but the accident was survived by all but two of those on board.

Looking back a few years, other examples of remarkable survivability include the British Airways 777 that force-landed short of the runway at London Heathrow, the Hudson River ditching by an Airbus A320, and the Toronto crash by an A340.

While the aircraft manufacturers and cabin systems designers are rightly praised for this engineering improvement, things would be even better if this admirable survivability were put to the test rather less often by the airlines.

In fact the high level of airline safety today is the result, almost entirely, of improvements in aircraft, their engines and their smart systems. The converse of that truth is that almost everything that goes wrong is the result of sub-optimal human performance.

Investment in more appropriate training is the simple answer. An absolutely zero accident rate may be unlikely, but we could easily get much, much closer to it than we are now.

Here is another way of looking at it.

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