2017 an “exceptionally good year” for aviation safety but complacency is dangerous

2017 safest year ever for commercial passenger flights

The past year has been “another exceptionally good year for civil aviation safety,” according to analysis released by consultancy To70. However, it warns against complacency and pinpoints new threats on the horizon.

2017 an “exceptionally good year” for aviation safety but complacency is dangerous

The research finds that 2017 saw just two fatal accidents to passenger airliners, both involving small turbo-prop planes – To70’s Civil Aviation Safety Review examines accidents only to larger passenger aircraft commonly used by most travellers. The analysis concludes: “2017 was much better than could reasonably (and statistically) be expected, and was again better than last year’s [2016] remarkable performance.”

However, To70 cautions: “The risks to civil aviation do remain high, as the seriousness of some of the non-fatal accidents shows.

“Whilst civil aviation remains an industry with a very high level of safety it does, at the same time, carry large risks.”

Safety statistics: 2017 in review

In 2016, there were 71 civil aviation accidents, of which six resulted in fatalities. In 2017, the number is even lower at 111 accidents, two of which included fatalities. There were no accidents in 2017 related to unlawful interference. A total of 13 lives were lost in two regional airline accidents.

An estimated three percent growth in air traffic for 2017 over 2016 means that the fatal accident rate for large aeroplanes in commercial air transport is reduced to 0.06 fatal accidents per million flights. That is a rate of one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.

However, To70 notes, there were also several serious non-fatal accidents in 2017, including a number of engine-related accidents.

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,” the analysis warns. “Airlines worldwide are training their crews to fight any fires in the cabin; the challenge is keeping such batteries out of passenger luggage.”

The researchers conclude that 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.”

They also pinpoint a few key areas for attention:

  • The application of new technologies in design, construction and operations 
  • Human factors such as mental health issues and fatigue
  • Airline business models

Read the full report

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