A higher number of fatal airline accidents in 2019 – up on both the previous 12 months and the five-year average – appear to confirm that a long period of consistent safety improvement is coming to an end.

However, despite the rise in fatal accident numbers, the number of crew and passenger deaths actually fell year on year.

Airline safety record 2010-19
 FlightGlobal research
Fatal Accidents 26 32 21 26 19 9 13 12 14 22
Fatalities 817 514 425 281 671 176 306 56 543 297

There were a total of 22 fatal accidents involving airline operations – both passenger and cargo – in 2019, in which 297 people died. That compares with 2018 (14 crashes with 543 deaths) and 2017 (12/56).

The best-ever year for airline safety was 2015 which saw only nine fatal crashes and 176 casualties.

Last year saw three big passenger jet crashes: an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max (157 deaths) in March; an Aeroflot Superjet 100 (41 deaths) in May; and the late December loss of a Bek Air Fokker 100 (12 deaths). A pair of large cargo jets – an Antonov An-12 and a Boeing 767 – were also lost in the period.

The rest of 2019’s accidents involved propeller-driven aircraft, large and small.

Until now, modern airline safety performance had improved relentlessly, decade by decade, since the Second World War.

That does not mean the world’s airlines are unsafe, but it does suggest the recent hope of a zero-fatal-accident future is going to remain unattainable in today’s industry.

A full analysis of world airline safety for 2019 will be published online later this month and in the 21-27 January issue of Flight International.