Forty years after the worst accident in civil aviation history, European authorities are transitioning to a new method of assessing safety risk.
Safety performance has typically been monitored through the blunt tool of counting accidents and serious incidents.
But the European Aviation Safety Agency states that this method is “not a good risk measure”.
In a preliminary safety review covering 2016 the authority says the accident rate of European-operated commercial air transport has been broadly downwards since 2012, to around three per million flights.
The overall number of accidents last year, 18, was the lowest figure for a decade but, in contrast, the number of serious incidents, more than 100, was the highest in the same period.
“This increase was mainly attributable to occurrences relating to technical failures of aircraft systems, medical, runway excursion and loss of separation,” says EASA.
EASA says a new common risk-classification scheme due for implementation this year will “provide a better picture” of safety risks.
The scheme emerged from a European Union directive requiring development, by May 2017, of a mechanism by which necessary rapid action could be identified through analysis of individual safety occurrences.
“Such a scheme should help the relevant entities in their assessment of occurrences and in determining where best to focus their efforts,” the directive states.
IATA states that the commercial airline industry’s accident rate declined to 1.61 per million flights last year, from the previous level of 1.79.
It released its accident statistics days before the 40th anniversary of the Boeing 747 runway collision in Tenerife in March 1977, which resulted in over 580 fatalities and remains the highest-casualty accident in civil aviation history.
The major jet accident rate increased slightly to 0.39, one of the parameters in which the association acknowledges the industry took a “step back”.
But the relative rarity of accidents means that the statistics are easily skewed by individual occurrences, highlighting the need for a more finely-tuned method of analysis.
The European scheme is intended to collate occurrence reports in a format which will facilitate information exchange.
EASA says: “The scheme will help to shift the focus to the probable potential harm of identified hazards to the European aviation system instead of directly measuring the severity of a realised outcome.”
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Source: Cirium Dashboard