Mechanical failure overtakes CFIT as biggest airline killer

Technical failure overtook controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) as the leading cause of fatal airline accidents last year, Flight International's 2003 Annual Safety Review reveals.

Mechanical problems - in some cases known to have resulted from maintenance mistakes - were the trigger in 11 accident sequences in 2003 that resulted in the deaths of 295 people. This represents 42% of the casualties out of a total of 702 deaths in 27 fatal accidents in 2003. Despite the significance of such a shift the reason for it is not clear, and since 2003 was also the safest year ever, the statistical sample is a small one.

Technical failure has not been the leading cause of accidents since the mid-1970s, when the reliability of aircraft, their engines and systems improved massively with the introduction of second-generation jet airliners.

Since the mid-1970s CFIT crashes - accidents in which the aircraft hits terrain without the pilot being aware he/she was close to it - had consistently been the biggest killer in aviation, and in 2003 it remained a serious problem. CFIT was responsible for 10 fatal accidents and 243 deaths - the second worst accident category.

Africa, consistently the worst region in the world for airline safety, suffered a particularly bad year in comparison with the overall results, producing the three worst fatal accidents involving large jets.

Crashes involving an Air Algerie Boeing 737, a Sudan Airways 737 and a Union des Transports Africains de Guinee 727 killed 368 people. There were four accidents in 2003 for which the cause is yet to be determined; a total of 160 people died in these crashes.

Source: Flight International