Air accident figures for the first six months of 1998 show that while the number of crashes was slightly fewer than in the equivalent period in 1997, the number of fatalities was markedly higher. Asia Pacific carriers continue to give the greatest cause for concern.
Figures compiled by ATI sister publication Flight International reveal that Asia Pacific airlines were involved in six of the 11 fatal passenger aircraft accidents between January and June of this year. In the whole of 1997 the region's carriers were responsible for four of the six fatal accidents involving scheduled passenger services.
In total there have been 18 accidents with 591 fatalities in the first six months of 1998, compared with 20 and 231 respectively in the same period last year. While the number of accidents is below average for the 1988/98 ten-year period, the number of fatalities is well above the mean.
The normally reserved ICAO spoke of its serious concern about the Asia Pacific situation following the 2 February accident involving Cebu Pacific Air of the Philippines.
ICAO's regional representative, Lalit Shah, says that "the Asia Pacific region is increasingly becoming the owner of a series of catastrophic aircraft accidents." He adds that Asia-specific safety initiatives were proposed four years ago and that implementation is now "long overdue".
In the Cebu accident a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 hit a mountain during a non-radar approach, killing 104, although a China Airlines (CAL) Airbus A300-600R crash at Taipei, Taiwan was the worst single incident, with 196 on-board fatalities.
The accident bore similarities to a previous CAL accident at Nagoya, Japan in April 1994. A month after the Taipei event, Taiwan's carriers suffered another fatal accident when a Formosa Airlines Saab 340 crashed into the sea killing all 13 on board.
The air transport industry has made concerted efforts over the last few years to reduce the number of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents: such incidents claimed 232 lives and five airframes in the first half of this year.
Normally such accidents occur during descent and approach, but a Boeing 727 operated by Ecuadorian domestic carrier TAME on an Air France code-share leaving Bogota, Colombia, crashed into a mountainside during a non-standard departure.
Flight notes: "A six-month period is normally too short a time to draw conclusions about the health of air transport flight safety. When familiar patterns are confirmed, however, conclusions are valid. Again, none of the serious accidents involved any of the world's major Western, Australasian or Middle Eastern carriers."
ICAO and other safety organisations have long believed that the only way to ensure the highest airline safety standards is effective control by governments and their air transport regulatory authorities.
Economic problems in Asia Pacific may make it more difficult for air safety to be pushed up the priority list, but unless this happens, warns Flight, "the danger remains that passengers may begin to spurn air transport as the Taiwanese have done, except on a wider scale".
Civil air transport fatal accidents, first six months of 1998
Source: Flight International
*The Peruvian air force operates some domestic services, likewise TAME Ecuador is part of the country's military air arm.