Fatal accidents cut but CFIT still kills

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Fewer losses in 2006 as long-term safety trend resumed

The number of fatal airline accidents declined in 2006 to 27 - equalling the lowest annual figure for 10 years despite traffic growth - but the scourge of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) still accounted for around a quarter of the losses.

The previous year's total of 34 fatal accidents now figures as an upward blip in the graph for the decade, with 2006 confirming the continuing overall safety improvement trend for the past decade. Only seven of 2006's fatal accidents involved passenger jet operations.

Total crew and passenger fatalities in 2006 were 863, below the annual average for the decade (917). That may sound good compared with 2005's total of 1,050, but the fatalities figure has been lower in four of the years from 1997 to 2004, the smallest number being 466 in 2004.

At least five, and possibly seven, of the fatal accidents were CFIT. The final verdict will depend on facts yet to be determined by investigators. None of the five aircraft involved were fitted with terrain awareness warning systems (TAWS). In 2005 there were seven fatal CFIT accidents.

A concerted effort by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Air Transport Association to improve safety in Africa is showing results in Nigeria, which has been revising its whole system of industry oversight. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority reports that the recent ICAO safety audit went well.

Despite remaining challenges, IATA's director of programmes implementation Mike O'Brien has recently pointed out that, at 1 December, last year looked set to be the safest year ever with a global average rate of 0.65 hull losses per million sectors and an IATA member carrier hull-loss rate of 0.29 for the same period. Between 1 December and the year-end there has been one jet hull loss, but no fatal accidents, so the overall verdict for 2006 remains good.