World airline safety in 2012 was exceptionally good whichever way the statistics are cut, particularly in terms of accident rates, but also in simple accident numbers.
Paul Hayes, senior safety analyst at Flightglobal consultancy Ascend, has warned, however, that the rate is probably "a bit of a fluke", and that the figures for 2013 may be less good without actually indicating a reversal in real airline safety.
A single year's world airline safety statistics, particularly when there are so few fatal or serious airline accidents, is not statistically significant except as part of a longer-term trend, Hayes notes. Nevertheless, he adds, 2012 has reinforced a favourable trend in an emphatic manner.
Flightglobal figures show there were 21 fatal airline accidents in 2012, resulting in a total of 425 deaths. This compares with respective figures in 2011 of 32 and 514. Flight International's statistical sample produces figures that vary slightly from those from other sources even if they tell much the same story. They take account of all fatal airline accidents whether they involve Western- or Eastern-built aircraft, and include aircraft of all weights, sizes and engine types, in passenger and non-passenger airline operations.
Ascend's Special Bulletin analysing airline safety performance last year says: "2012 was another good year for safety, with the fatal accident rate falling from about one per 1.4 million flights overall in 2011 to one per 2.3 million flights in 2012. On this basis, 2012 was certainly the safest year ever and, on the face of it, 65% safer than 2011, which itself had been labelled 'the safest year ever'. However, unfortunately, we do not believe that the world's airlines have suddenly become this much safer and 2012's accident rate, perhaps, should be considered more of a fluke than the new norm."
- A complete 2012 airline accident listing, with a full analysis of airline operational standards and current safety concerns, will be published in Flight International for 15-21 January.