2017 was the safest year in aviation history; though caution urged on remarkable figures continuing
New figures released in separate reports by the Aviation Safety Network and Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 reported that 2017 saw not a single commercial passenger airplane fatality, making it the safest year for aviation ever. With only two fatal accidents to passenger airliners, both involving small turbo-prop planes, 2017 was much better than could reasonably (and statistically) be expected, and was again better than last year's remarkable performance.
To70's report puts the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights at 0.06 per million flights, or one fatal accident for every 16 million flights. The Aviation Safety Network (ASN) also reported there were no commercial passenger jet deaths in 2017, but 10 fatal airliner accidents resulting in 44 fatalities on-board and 35 persons on the ground, including cargo planes and commercial passenger turbo prop aircraft.
The ASN's statistics are based on all worldwide fatal commercial aircraft accidents (passenger and cargo flights) involving civil (not military) aircraft of which the basic model has been certified for carrying 14 or more passengers. Consequently, the June 7 accident involving a Myanmar Air Force Y-8F transport plane that killed 122 is not included. Though even when including military transport aircraft as well as non-commercial flights, the total number fatalities would be 230 in 24 fatal accidents. Still the lowest numbers in modern aviation history.
The low number of accidents comes as no surprise, according to ASN President Harro Ranter: "Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organisations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry."
To70 are keen to point out that even with so few fatal accidents to examine, there were several serious non-fatal accidents in 2017, most pressingly a number of engine related accidents occurred, including the spectacular loss of the engine inlet fan and cowling on an Air France A380
In addition to the non-fatal accidents, there are a number of notable events that have been excluded from the statistics. Examples of these accidents include: the fatal injury to a person caused by jet blast when standing close to the airport fence at St Maarten's airport, and a cargo aeroplane accident at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, when the aeroplane overran the runway and ended up in a village close to the airport, killing 35 on the ground.
Expert View from To70, other risks:
"Not all of the safety risks are related to aviation technology. The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in electronics creates a fire risk on board aeroplanes as such batteries are difficult to extinguish if they catch fire. Airlines worldwide are training their crews to fight any fires in the cabin; the challenge is keeping such batteries out of passenger luggage.
Despite the good news, a note of caution needs to be sounded. Whilst the safety levels of modern civil passenger airplanes remain high, the extraordinarily low accident rate this year must be seen as a case of good fortune. Statistically speaking, in a dataset that starts with over thirty million flights, there is little difference between two accidents and ten accidents. That this year's accidents only resulted in 13 fatalities is even greater fortune.
There is no room for complacency. Civil aviation, whilst an industry with a very high level of safety, does still carry very large risks.
Looking at the programmes for the first few safety conferences planned for 2018, we see a number of areas requiring attention. The application of new technologies in design, construction and operations is timely in relation to maintenance issues that have arisen on the engines used on the 787 Dreamliner. Human factors are, understandably, high on the agenda. Mental health issues and fatigue are central to this topic. Another prominent theme amongst safety professionals in the coming year is airline business models and how the industry runs itself."