2011 was a ‘good year’ and, in fact, from the point of view of airline fatal accident and passenger fatality rates, was the safest year ever.
Worldwide in 2011 there were 25 fatal airline accidents giving a fatal accident rate of one per 1.52 million flights, a 17% improvement over the one per 1.3 million flights achieved in 2010. However, comparing single years is meaningless – obviously the world’s airlines did not suddenly become almost 20% safer between 2010 and 2011 although, hopefully, the long-term, on-going gradual improvement in safety did continue last year.
The fatal accident rate has halved in the last 20 years, simplistically suggesting an average 5% per year improvement in safety over the period although, of course, this improvement, as demonstrated by changes in the fatal accident rate, has not been smooth. There have been both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years but it should be remembered that, fortunately, fatal accidents are rare and just one fatal accident more or less in a year will result in a 5% improvement or worsening of the rate.
Airline accidents are news and the random distribution in timing of crashes means that, occasionally, a number will come together in a short period of time (‘disasters come in threes’) giving rise to headlines such as ‘Why are all these aircraft falling out of the sky?’ A ‘string’ of accidents does not mean that safety has suddenly become worse but this is probably the impression the public gets.
To help put air safety trends into perspective; Flightglobal Ascend is launching a new series of safety reports, which will analyse accident frequency and accident rates for different classes of aircraft and different areas of the world. The first two of these special reports, giving an overview of airline and business aircraft accident rates are now available for download using the links below: