The number of commercial air transport accidents and fatal accidents worldwide both declined in 2014, but fatalities suffered in these operations tripled, reversing a three-year downward trend, according to statistics released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in March.1 The number of commercial flights increased roughly 5 percent last year to 38 million from 36.2 million in 2013, IATA said.
The number of accidents declined to 73 last year from 81 in 2013, and the number of fatal accidents decreased to 12 from 16 (Figure 1). Both numbers also represent declines of 86 and 19, respectively, from the five-year averages for the 2009–2013 period. The number of fatalities, however, rose to 641 from 210 in 2013 (Figure 2). The average total for fatalities was 517 for the years 2009 through 2013.
Three of last year’s 12 fatal accidents were hull loss2 accidents involving jets. Included in the jet total is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Although the reasons for the disappearance and loss of MH370 are unknown, it has been classified as a fatal accident. Not included is MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board in July, and is believed to have been shot down. IATA said MH17 is not considered an accident under globally recognized accident classification criteria.
“The shooting down of MH17 took with it 298 lives in an act of aggression that is by any measure unacceptable,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO. “Governments and industry have come together to find ways to reduce the risk of over-flying conflict zones. This includes better sharing of critical information about security risks to civil aviation. And we are calling on governments to find an international mechanism to regulate the design, manufacture, and deployment of weapons with anti-aircraft capabilities,” he said.
The global industry jet accident rate,3 as measured in hull losses per million flights, was 0.23, which IATA described as the “lowest rate in history and the equivalent of one accident for every 4.4 million flights” (Figure 3). The jet hull loss rate in 2013 was 0.41 per million flights, or an average of one accident every 2.4 million flights, IATA said.
“Any accident is one too many, and safety is always aviation’s top priority,” said Tyler. “While aviation safety was in the headlines in 2014, the data show that flying continues to improve its safety performance.”
The jet hull loss rate among IATA’s 250 member airlines was nearly half that of the industry as a whole, coming in at 0.12 per million flights, or one accident for every 8.3 million flights. The IATA jet hull loss rate in 2013 was 0.30 per million flights.
The global turboprop hull loss rate in 2014 was 2.30 per million flights, down from 2.79 in 2013 (Figure 4).
The IATA-member turboprop hull loss rate last year was 0.93 per million flights, down from 2.82 in 2013. Nine of the 17 hull loss events in 2014 were fatal accidents.
The jet hull loss rate was flat or declined in all eight world regions as defined by IATA4 (Figure 5). The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had the highest jet hull loss rate at 0.83 per million flights, but that was down from the region’s 2013 rate of 1.79 accidents per million flights. Both North Asia and Africa had jet hull loss rates of 0.00.
The turboprop hull loss rate, on the other hand, increased in four of the eight regions, including Africa, the CIS, the Middle East and North Africa, and North Asia.
“The fact that [sub-Saharan Africa] experienced no jet hull loss accidents last year is real progress,” said Tyler. “However, the poor performance on turboprops demonstrates that significant challenges remain.”
IATA said that governments in sub-Saharan Africa need to accelerate implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s safety-related standards and recommended practices (SARPs), according to the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program. As of the end of 2014, only 14 African nations had achieved 60 percent implementation of the SARPs. Tyler pointed out that the 27 sub-Saharan airlines that are on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry performed 10 times better than non-IOSA operators in terms of the all-accident rate (1.95 per million flights versus 19.62 per million flights).
The “all-accident” rate, which includes substantial damage accidents and hull loss accidents for jets and turboprops, was 1.92 per million flights in 2014, down from 2.24 per million flights in 2013 (Figure 6).The all-accident rate for IATA-member carriers was 0.94 last year and 1.60 in 2013.
- IATA defines an accident as an event where all of the following criteria are met:
- Person(s) have boarded the aircraft with the intention of flight (either flight crew or passengers).
- The intention of the flight is limited to normal commercial aviation activities, specifically scheduled/charter passenger or cargo service. Executive jet operations, training and maintenance/test flights are excluded.
- The aircraft is turbine powered and has a certificated maximum takeoff weight of at least 5,700 kg (12,566 lb).
- The aircraft has sustained major structural damage exceeding $1 million or 10 percent of the aircraft’s hull reserve value, whichever is lower, or has been declared a hull loss.
- A hull loss is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and is not subsequently repaired for whatever reason, including a financial decision by the owner.
- The IATA Accident Classification Task Force had agreed that distinguishing between Western-built and Eastern-built aircraft in terms of accidents no longer is relevant given the shrinking fleet of wholly Eastern built aircraft and the globalization of air transport manufacturing.
- ATA classifies accidents according to the region of the operator that experienced the accident, which may not be the same region where the accident took place. For example, the crash of Air Algerie Flight 5017 in July in Mali involved an aircraft and crew belonging to Swiftair of Spain and therefore the accident is classified in the Europe region.