Airlines failed to maintain 2012′s safety high in 2013

Airline fatal accidents hit an all-time low in 2012, but last year the airlines proved they couldn’t keep safety at that level for long.

In fact the 2012 figures had broken safety records so convincingly that Flight International predicted the figures would probably be a one-year “spike”. Maybe it was, but not a dramatic one given that the results for 2013 were pretty good when looked at as part of a trend.

The global total of airline fatal accidents in 2013 was 26, up five from the previous year’s record low of 21, but the number of fatalities in those accidents was indeed a dramatic record low at 281, whereas the previous lowest figure was 425.

So there’s good news too. Passenger survivability in modern jets is astounding.

That amazing survivability characteristic was proven again in 2013, particularly by the Lion Air  Boeing 737-800 and Asiana 777-200 accidents. The Lion Air aircraft crashed into the sea short of the Denpasar runway, but all 83 people on board survived. When the Asiana 777  hit the sea wall short of San Francisco’s runway, broke up and cartwheeled across the airfield, only three of the 323 people on board died.

You could say that real safety issues are being distorted by accidents like the Lion Air event, on the grounds that it was lucky not to have ended up in the fatal crashes list. And in the Asiana event it was remarkable that so few died.

The figures quoted here include cargo flights as well as passenger, and all types of genuine airline operation whether scheduled or chartered, including commuter airline commercial operations using aircraft like the single-turboprop Cessna Caravan.

But among large commercial passenger jets (5,500kg and above), there were only four fatal accidents worldwide, killing 105 people. Nowadays the fatal accidents total is always made up mainly of accidents to smaller commuter aircraft, usually turboprop-powered.

A deeper look at these figures from the airline insurer’s point of view will be published in the next few days by Flightglobal’s advisory partner Ascend, and a full analysis of the significance of 2013 airline safety results will appear in the 21-27 January issue of Flight International magazine.

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