Airline safety performance has just recorded its eighth year in a row in which accident numbers and rates have resolutely failed to fall. But why should that matter if safety is good?

Because from 1903, when the Wright brothers invented powered flight, safety improved significantly every decade for exactly 100 years. Since 2003, however, that improvement has stopped.

Most of the safety gains over the years have come from improved technology and more reliable equipment,. There was a final burst of improvement in the 1990s caused by a shift in safety management thinking from a reactive approach to a proactive, data-driven, risk-management approach.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of the world has not made that shift, and until the countries concerned - mostly second and third world - start thinking proactively rather than meeting regulatory requirements, the airlines registered there will be stuck with 1980s safety.

There are exceptions within regions. The gap between the commendable safety performance of International Air Transport Association member carriers and the rest is growing dramatically. It is still a bit too early in its life to say that the IATA Operational Safety Audit, compulsory for every member carrier every two years, is the major factor in this growth, but it can't be doing any harm.

Source: Flight International