Global airline fatal accident figures for the first half of 2011 are remarkably consistent with those for the years of the preceding decade. There is no meaningful trend toward safety performance improvement or the opposite.
This year to 30 June saw 11 fatal airline accidents compared with nine for the same period in 2010 (see graph). Six months provides only a snapshot of safety performance, so is not a statistically significant change, but the half-year comparisons over the whole decade do indeed tell a consistent story, which is confirmed by the full-year trend as well. Those who hope for continuous improvement continue to be disappointed. The number of fatalities dropped last year to 242, compared with 415 in 2010, which may sound good, but the lower figure is not a decade-best.
© Rex Features
Six people died when a Swearingen Metro III crashed at Cork, Ireland, after its third attempted approach
If there are some indicators in this snapshot that are worth highlighting, they include the large proportion of Eastern-built aircraft among the fatal accident statistics this year so far: not only Antonovs, Tupolevs and Yakovlevs, but also Let L-410s and a Chinese Xian MA60. Indonesia continues to feature disproportionately frequently in global accident figures, as does Iran, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Finally, it was not a good year for airlines in the CIS states.
The two Congos are notorious for accidents involving ancient Antonov freighters. In the past, some of these had been used for United Nations charters. This year the UN chartered a Bombardier CRJ100ER for DR Congo operations hoping for better. But the aircraft, operated by Georgian Airways, crashed at Kinshasa Ndjili with 33 people on board, and only one passenger survived (see accident list).
Indonesia knows it has a problem, and in early May it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Netherlands-based European Joint Aviation Authorities Training Organisation (JAA TO) to set up a major training centre to produce aviation safety-management skills for its own needs and those of other nations in the region. Ironically, this agreement was signed the day before the fatal crash involving Indonesian regional carrier Merpati Nusantara in which all 27 people on board died. Earlier in the year another domestic carrier, Sabang Merauke Raya, had lost a Casa Nurtanio NC212 freighter and its crew.
The JAA TO described the aims: "The objective is to establish a framework within which the organisations will co-operate in delivering a curriculum for aviation professionals in Indonesia and other ASEAN countries, with competency-based courses conforming to JAA TO's worldwide quality standards. This will enable training and qualifying local trainers to become certified JAA TO instructors. The focus on a strong and long-lasting cooperation envisages the establishment of a solid training capacity able to meet the demands of the growing aviation industry in Asia."
In February a Swearingen Metro III crashed at Cork, Ireland, killing six of the 12 people on board and raising questions that are more usual after an accident in the US on-demand charter market than one involving what is ostensibly a scheduled regional airline in Europe. Manx2, which marketed the flights and sold the tickets, was a "virtual" airline based in the Isle of Man, a UK offshore tax haven. The crash flight, a published scheduled service, was operated by Barcelona-based Flightline BCN, which provided the crew and leased the aircraft from Seville-based Airlada. According to the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit, the captain was new to command, and the co-pilot new to the type, and the aircraft had no autopilot, autothrottle or flight director.
The Manx2 flight arrival at Cork was affected by sea fog, a common local problem. The aircraft crashed on its third attempted approach, having descended well below its decision height on the ILS approach for runway 17, before starting what appears to have been a belated attempt to go around, according to the AAIU. The Unit's interim report says that 7s before impact a warning horn sounded, "believed to be the stall warning". The AAIU refers to a subsequent loss of control that led to a wingtip hitting the ground, after which the aircraft came to rest inverted beside the runway. The final report is awaited.
In the accidents listed here, 10 are runway events. There are no runway incursions, but one runway-confusion event (misidentified runway), and nine runway excursions, most of them non-fatal but with serious damage incurred. The attempt by the Flight Safety Foundation, the International Air Transport Association and others to raise awareness of the high risk of runway accidents is not yet having a noticeable effect. They remain the most common of all airline accidents.
ACCIDENT REPORTS RELEASED JANUARY-JUNE 2011
This is a summary of interim or final accident investigation reports published in the first six months of 2011, even if the event occurred before 1 January.