IN FOCUS: 2012 airline safety starts well

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A six-month snapshot of global airline accidents and incidents reveals a reasonably safe industry by recent standards.

Worldwide fatal accidents involving commercial airline operations of all types in the first six months of 2012 dropped to a decade low of nine, but the number of resulting crew and passenger deaths was close to the average for the same period, the last 10 years, at 338.

Most of the fatalities occurred in just two accidents, the 20 April Bhoja Airlines Boeing 737-200 crash near Islamabad, Pakistan, and the 3 June Dana Air Boeing MD-83 crash on approach to Lagos International airport, Nigeria. Everybody on both flights died, the respective numbers being 127 and 153.

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The Bhoja Airlines Boeing 737-200 crash in Pakistan killed 127

Pakistani flight safety is going through a bad patch. In 2010 there were two fatal accidents involving locally registered aircraft, one of them an Airblue Airbus A321 at Islamabad that killed all 152 on board in an accident involving the captain's blatant disregard for procedures, common sense and airmanship. And as well as the Bhoja crash this year a Shaheen Air 737-400 suffered such a damaging landing at Karachi that it may be written off, although no-one was hurt.

Nigeria had a similarly bad period in 2005-06, but since then has had better fortune since radically reorganising its safety oversight system by making its aviation authority autonomous, so the Dana Air crash feels like a setback. Power failure appears to be a factor in the accident, which occurred on final approach in benign daylight weather with good visibility.

It has been a relatively good six months for commuter turboprops with just two fatal accidents, a UTair ATR72 near Tyumen airport, Russia, and an Agni Air Dornier 228 crash near Jomsom airfield, Nepal. Among non-passenger operations - mostly cargo flights - there were slightly fewer than normal fatal accidents, and no big jets involved.

Among the non-fatal accidents and incidents listed here, the largest single category is formed of the unhappy consequences of unstable approaches to land.

Paul Hayes, senior safety analyst at Flightglobal advisory service Ascend, cautions about reading too much significance into statistics from such a short period, and comments that "yet again" the operators involved in accidents are ones whose name is unfamiliar outside their local marketplace, and the larger international carriers are absent from the list.