Safer skies: Plane crash fatalities fell significantly in 2019

Despite the Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia, commercial airlines encountered fewer accidents, says a Dutch firm.

A flight deck director signals to a newly ordered Sri Lankan Airlines A320neo plane at Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake
Over the last 20 years, aviation deaths around the world have been falling dramatically even as travel has increased [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Air travel was safer in 2019 as the number of people killed in large commercial plane crashes fell by more than 50 percent, despite a high-profile Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia in March, a Dutch consulting company said on Wednesday.

Aviation consulting firm To70 said there were 86 accidents involving large commercial planes – including eight fatal incidents – resulting in 257 fatalities last year. In 2018, there were 160 accidents, including 13 fatal ones, resulting in 534 deaths, the firm said.

To70 said the fatal accident rate for large aircraft in commercial passenger air transport was just 0.18 fatal accident per million flights in 2019, or an average of one fatal accident every 5.58 million flights, a significant improvement compared with 2018.

The numbers of deaths include passengers, aircrews such as flight attendants and any people on the ground killed in a plane accident

Large passenger aircraft in the study are planes used by nearly all travellers on airlines worldwide but excludes small commuter aeroplanes in service, including the Cessna Caravan and some smaller turboprop planes, according to To70.

On December 23, Boeing’s board said it had fired Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg after a pair of fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX forced it to announce it was halting output of its best-selling jet. The 737 MAX has been grounded since March after an October 2018 crash in Indonesia and the crash of a MAX in Ethiopia in March killed a total of 346 people.

To70 said the aviation industry spent significant effort in 2019 “focusing on so-called ‘future threats’ such as drones.” But the MAX crashes “are a reminder that we need to retain our focus on the basics that make civil aviation so safe: well-designed and well-built aircraft flown by fully informed and well-trained crews,” it added.

The Aviation Safety Network said on Wednesday that, despite the MAX crash, 2019 “was one of the safest years ever for commercial aviation.” The 157 people killed in March on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accounted for more than half of all deaths last year worldwide in passenger airline crashes.

Over the last 20 years, aviation deaths around the world have been falling dramatically even as travel has increased. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths on board commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

In 2017, aviation had its safest year on record worldwide with only two fatal accidents involving regional turboprops that resulted in 13 deaths and no fatal crashes of passenger jets.

Last week, 12 people were killed when a Fokker 100 operated by Kazakh carrier Bek Air crashed near Almaty after takeoff. In May, a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft caught fire as it made an emergency landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, killing 41 people.

The figures do not include accidents involving military, training or private flights, or cargo operations and helicopters.

Source: Reuters