Evacuation procedures were required in 43 percent of 106 commercial passenger airline accidents reported from 2016 through 2018, with normal disembarkation using boarding doors possible in 37 percent, according to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).1
The 106 accidents constituted a subset of the 135 total “passenger-only” accidents from 2016 through 2018 in which an “end state” could be determined.
The information was included in the IATA Safety Report 2018, issued in April 2019, which detailed accident rates and safety trends in 2018 and in specific time ranges.
“Everything in an aircraft cabin involves an underlying aspect of safety, and there is always the potential for an abnormal situation to escalate into an emergency,” the report said.
Figure 1 — Cabin End State — Jet
Source: International Air Transport Association
In reviewing evacuation procedures after accidents with known end states that involved passenger jet airplanes, data showed that in 56 percent of accidents, passengers used boarding doors for orderly disembarkation. Forty-four percent of those disembarkations were considered “normal” and 12 percent were “abnormal”2 (Figure 1).
In accidents involving turboprop passenger aircraft, normal disembarkation was possible only in 15 percent of accidents, abnormal disembarkation was used in 22 percent, and an evacuation on land3 was required in 55 percent, the report said (Figure 2).
“On these smaller aircraft, evacuation to the ground is easier to facilitate as evacuation systems such as integral steps pose less risk to the occupants,” the report said. “The distinction between abnormal disembarkation and evacuation is, therefore, less apparent than in larger jet aircraft.”
When cabin end states were classified according to phase of flight, data showed that 74 occurred during landing. Of those, 47 percent required land evacuation, 20 percent ended in normal disembarkation, and 14 percent ended in abnormal disembarkation, the report said.
The report also examined data involving reports of unruly passenger incidents, counting 8,731 validated reports in 2017 alone. Data submitted to IATA’s Safety Trend Evaluation, Analysis and Data Exchange System (STEADES) showed a rate of about 0.95 unruly passenger incidents per 1,000 flight sectors worldwide, or about one incident in every 1,053 flight sectors. In comparison, in 2016, the rate was 0.73 per 1,000 sectors.
“This number is likely to be a much lower rate than the actual global rate, as there are many reasons why participating airlines may not submit this data to STEADES,” the report said, adding that the airline’s security department may handle events involving unruly passengers, that some airlines do not record such events and that changes in airline software may delay the transfer of data to STEADES.
The report noted that IATA has established four levels of disruptive behavior, ranging from Level 1 (minor) to Level 4 (flight deck breach; Table 1).
|Level 1 Minor||Level 2 Moderate||Level 3 Serious||Level 4 Flight Deck Breach|
|Source: International Air Transport Association|
Of the cabin events that were reported from 2016 through 2018, 84 percent were considered Level 1 events involving verbal aggression, noncompliance with safety regulations such as smoking in lavatories or refusing to comply with fasten seat belt signs (Figure 3). The report said that 3,289 events (45 percent) were relatively minor and were quickly resolved, but 55 percent required further management such as calling police or security services or offloading passengers before departure; in six instances, the aircraft was diverted to offload the passenger.
The 815 (9 percent) Level 2 offenses included acts of physical aggression, some of which involved damage to aircraft fixtures or equipment. Police or security services were called to help resolve 59 percent of Level 2 incidents.
Some 279 events (3 percent) were classified at Level 3 — a grouping that “could be interpreted as a direct threat to the safety of a person or the aircraft,” including reports of self-harm, the report said.
Fifty events (1 percent) were classified at Level 4 and characterized as “the most serious incidents, where flight deck security could have been, or potentially was, compromised.”
Various events involving intoxication were classified at Levels 2, 3 or 4, the report said. Of the 2,454 reports involving intoxication, 381 (15.5 percent) also involved physical and/or dangerous behavior.
The report noted the reporting of events involving inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, although no specific numbers were cited.
“Where such incidents were reported to cabin crew, they were able to take appropriate action to segregate the alleged victim and offender, and report the incident through the reporting system,” the report said. “However, many of the report narratives show that the alleged victim was not willing to take further action upon landing, and/or the law enforcement authorities were not able to take the matter further.”
Injuries in the Cabin
IATA’s STEADES database included 3,473 reports of injuries sustained in airplane cabins during 2017, the report said, adding that not all airlines submit reports of injuries to the database. Calculations based on available data showed an overall rate of 0.38 injury reports per 1,000 flight sectors — the equivalent of one report per 2,626 sectors.
The report concluded that burns and scalds were the most common type of injury for passengers, while soft tissue injury was most common for cabin crewmembers. The most frequent type of incapacitating injury for cabin crewmembers was a “fall from height,” including falling down stairs from crew rest areas or down stairways on double-deck airplanes. Injuries received during airplane encounters with turbulence were responsible to 10 percent of cabin crew incapacitations, the report said.
- IATA. IATA Safety Report 2018, Edition 55. April 2019.
- The report defined a normal disembarkation as one in which “passengers and/or crew exit the aircraft via boarding doors during normal operations.” The report defined an abnormal disembarkation as one in which “passengers and/or crew exit the aircraft via boarding doors (normally assisted by internal aircraft or exterior stairs) after a non-life-threatening and non-catastrophic aircraft incident or accident and when away from the boarding gates or aircraft stands (e.g., on a runway or taxiway).”
- The report defined an evacuation on land or water as an instance in which “passengers and/or crew evacuate the aircraft via escape slides/slide rafts, doors, emergency exits or gaps in the fuselage.” The definition of a land evacuation adds that it is “usually initiated in life-threatening and/or catastrophic events.” The definition of a water evacuation adds that the process ends with the passenger or crewmember evacuating “into or onto water.”