Any accident involving any form of public transport will make the news bulletins. The reason is simple: when a train, bus or airplane crashes a large number of people are involved. And this large number of people has an even bigger number of friends and relatives, and the news generates a large interested audience. Another aspect of news that makes the headlines is that the occurrence of it must be rare.
Nobody can argue that air travel is unsafe when compared to the large number of car accidents worldwide; even staying at home is unhealthier than flying. This is the message repeated by every aviation expert or airline spokesperson after a crash. However, a large number of people are still afraid of flying and this is not likely to change by repeating this message.
The facts on aviation safety
The data clearly show that airline accidents are rare; however there are great regional differences. The safety aviation environments are those in Europe and North America. The most number of fatal accidents per million flights occur in Africa, where the rate is 20 times higher. That said, there are still only just over 38 accidents per million flights in Africa. According to the UN, Nigeria and South Africa have, respectively, road traffic fatality rates of 33.7 and 31.9 deaths per 100 000 population per year (2013 data).
Worldwide, most accidents occur during the approach and landing phase of the flight. During these phases aircraft are close to the ground and in a more vulnerable configuration than during other flight phases.
How to improve safety?
Further improvements to safety are not easy; there are many parties, processes involved and any actions taken must be well coordinated to be effective. The implementation of an integrated Safety Management System is a proven method to really make a step change to an organisation’s ability to continually improve safety. Fortunately, there is much knowledge and many tools available such as; audits, safety surveys and risk models. Safety awareness campaigns enable you to keep all parties permanently involved.
The greatest change that you can make is to extend the Safety Management System to all parts of the organisation, making everyone responsible for safety, however far away they are from the day to day aviation activities.
Accidents caused by unlawful interference
Looking at the numbers for 2014, the amount of accidents and casualties has risen compared to the years before. It must be said this was an exceptional year with the occurrence of a number of tragedies involving wide-body airliners. The most frequent fatal accident cause also changed; the two Malaysia Airline tragedies (flights MH370 and MH17) were caused by what the industry euphemistically calls “unlawful interference”. These are acts of terrorism and other malicious or deliberate acts that jeopardize the safety of an aircraft.
Unfortunately the record for this accident category in 2015 does not bode well with the German Wings tragedy in March and the bombing of Russian Metrojet flight 9268 above the Sinai dessert in October. Whilst flying remains a safe way to travel when compared to other means of transport, a greater emphasis on security is required to maintain an acceptable level of safety.