It was another good year for civil aviation safety, despite several recent front-page air crashes. Accident rates are again lower than previous years, with fatal accidents to commercial passenger airliners at 0.18 per million flights. That is equal to about one in every five million flights. The number of incidents due to unlawful interference, however, is cause for concern.
Our statistics: 2016 in review
Our to70 civil aviation safety review examines accidents only to larger passenger aircraft commonly used by most travellers. (See our criteria in the Note below.) We include all causes, whether technical failure, human error or unlawful interference.
There were 71 such accidents in 2016. Of those, only seven resulted in fatalities, with 271 deaths in total. The rates of both fatal and non-fatal incidents have decreased.
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Our findings: Diversity
Most of the fatal incidents are still being formally investigated, as determining the exact circumstances that conspired to cause the crash requires thorough diligence. Preventive action cannot be taken without knowing the real cause, and initial theories often shift as evidence is collected.
Preliminary accident investigation reports on the EgyptAir crash in May, for example, centred around a cockpit or avionics bay fire. A statement issued mid-December now reports traces of explosives found on some victims.
Although not all of the causes are clear, there were various different causes to the fatal accidents in 2016:
- In February, a suicide-bomb attack on a Somali airline killed the perpetrator damaging the aeroplane that landed safely.
- All 23 persons aboard a sight-seeing flight in Nepal were killed when the Twin Otter aeroplane crashed into terrain.
- In March, all 62 occupants of a flydubai Boeing 737 were killed when the pilot lost control after a go-around in bad weather, crashing at Rostov-on-Don Airport in Russia.
- In May, an EgyptAir A320 crashed into the sea near Cyprus, killing 66 people, the cause of which is still unclear.
- A firefighter at Dubai Airport died in August after an Emirates Boeing 777 crashed and caught fire.
- In November, a LaMia charter flight crashed in Colombia, apparently from fuel exhaustion, killing 71 people.
- On 6 December, 47 people died in Pakistan when a PIA flight with apparent engine failure crashed into mountains, the investigation of which has just begun.
Frequent causes of non-fatal accidents in 2016:
- Uncontained engine failures and fires from engine parts exiting sideways at speed.
- Runway excursions, some resulting in collapsed landing gear.
- Low-speed ground incidents of aeroplanes hitting obstacles.
Our conclusion: shifting the focus
Whilst any accident is too many, we would argue that such low accident rates demonstrate the effectiveness of aviation safety standards in mitigating flight safety risks. The survival of all passengers and crew aboard the Emirates flight is testament to the excellent aircraft design standards and the capable responses of cabin crew and firefighters. The fuel exhaustion crash of LaMia flight 2933, while tragic, does not warrant additional regulation as the cause appears to be a deliberate unsafe act by the operator and crew.
However, the cases of unlawful interference warrant serious concern. Two of the seven fatal incidents in 2016 appear to be acts of terrorism. In 2014 and 2015, our data included two others – the Russian charter flight that exploded over the Sinai and the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 shot down over Ukraine. In our opinion, including such incidents in ICAO and IATA statistics would provide the travelling public with better insights into current aviation safety risks, and to70 therefore calls, again, for a change in how safety data statistics are formulated.
The University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows 101 attacks on airports and aircraft in 2014 and 2015, yet it is still standard in aviation statistics to exclude unlawful interference. These events and, from a European perspective, the attacks at Brussels airport in 2016 present a compelling case for shifting improvement efforts from aircraft safety to airport security.
To obtain our data, To70 reviews publicly available databases, aviation authority websites and sources such as the ICAO’s ADREP database. Only accidents to civil-operated passenger flights on airliners are considered. Unlike statistics produced by IATA and ICAO, accidents involving unlawful interference are included in our analysis. Airliners are defined here as powered by turbo-prop or turbofan engines and having a maximum take-off mass greater than 5,700 kg. Certain relevant exceptions may be included regarding smaller turbo-prop aeroplanes just below this mass limit (e.g., the De Havilland Twin Otter).
About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com