Although major news events kept safety issues involving commercial aviation in the public eye for much of the year, the worldwide, Western-built, commercial jet major accident rate declined in 2014 to a record low of 0.13 accidents per million departures. The previous record low of 0.14 per million departures was reported for 2012, and the last four years have seen the four lowest accident rates ever for commercial jets.
Worldwide, commercial jet transports were involved in four major accidents in 2014, also a historic low (Table 1). The term major accident was introduced by Flight Safety Foundation in 2006 and means that any of the following conditions are met: the aircraft is destroyed1; there are multiple fatalities to aircraft occupants; or there is one fatality to an aircraft occupant and the aircraft is substantially damaged.
For only the second year since such data have been recorded, there were no controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents in 2014 involving commercial jets.
Business jets were involved in 13 major accidents in 2014, slightly more than their annual average. There were 20 commercial turboprop major accidents last year, which is about average for that aviation industry sector. CFIT accidents again dominated the turboprop fatality numbers.
There were four major accidents in scheduled and unscheduled Western- and Eastern-built commercial jet operations in 2014, down sharply from the seven that occurred in both 2012 and 2013. Three of the four accidents in 2014 occurred during the en route phase of flight, which is unusual because statistically, the en route phase has been the safest phase of flight. Included among the four accidents is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 that disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8. At press time, the aircraft and its occupants had not been found. Not included in last year’s accident total was Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Ukraine in July, according to investigative reports. Because such actions are considered deliberate, the event is not classified as an aviation accident.
Figure 1 shows the number of all commercial jet major accidents by year since 2001, including the subsets of accidents that involved Eastern-built aircraft. For the second year in a row, there were no Eastern-built commercial jet major accidents in 2014.
Figure 2 shows the commercial jet accident rate in accidents per million departures and the rate’s five-year running average. The accident rate is for Western-built jets only because even though we know the number of major accidents that involved Eastern-built jets, we do not have reliable exposure data (hours flown or departures) to calculate valid accident rates.
Eight of the 13 business jet major accidents in 2014 occurred during the approach and landing phases of flight (Table 2, p. 20). These 13 major accidents represent an increase of five from 2013. Business jets have averaged 10.5 major accidents per year since 2001 (Figure 3).
Calculating an accident rate for business jets is difficult because of the lack of valid exposure data. However, a rate can be calculated based on the number of business jets in the fleet, and that works out to an average annual rate of 0.51 major business jet accidents per 1,000 aircraft over the last five years of the 10-year period shown (Figure 4).
Eastern- and Western-built commercial turboprops2 suffered 20 major accidents in 2014, which is in line with the segment’s five-year rolling average of 20.4 accidents per year (Figure 5). CFIT accidents continued to dominate the turboprop accident and fatality numbers. Seven of the 20 turboprop major accidents in 2014 were CFIT accidents (Table 3). Over the last three years, one of every three commercial turboprop accidents has been a CFIT accident. Half of the segment’s 20 major accidents last year occurred during the approach and landing phases of flight; four occurred during the en route phase, four during initial climb and one during the go-around phase.
CFIT, approach and landing, and upset aircraft accidents3 continue to dominate the accident and fatality numbers for all types of aircraft. Over the last 15 years, 63 percent of commercial jet major accidents happened during the approach and landing phase of flight. Over the last five years, that number was 70 percent.
Similarly, over the last 15 years, 63 percent of business jet major accidents happened during approach or landing, and over the last four years, that number was 65 percent. Recent studies by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority have confirmed what the Foundation reported 20 years ago — the approach and landing phase of flight is by far the highest-risk phase of flight, accounting for over 60 percent of all accidents involving all types of aircraft. As the Foundation discovered in its approach and landing research, regardless of what type of aircraft is being flown, the risks are similar.
Last year was only the second year in which there were no commercial jet CFIT accidents. There was one commercial jet upset aircraft accident in 2014, an improvement from the two in 2013, but still more than the zero recorded in both 2011 and 2012. Multiple international efforts since 2009 that address airplane upset prevention, recognition and recovery — including standards and recommendations published by the International Civil Aviation Organization — appear to be having a positive effect.
Without diminishing the importance of the level of safety achieved in 2014, there is room for improvement. Because of the great work of aviation safety professionals around the world, interventions have been developed to prevent virtually every type of major accident. However, to be effective, these interventions need to be implemented. Although the accident numbers are low, we nevertheless continue to experience accidents for which interventions have been developed but — in the case of these accidents — were not implemented.
There were 23,845 commercial jets in the worldwide fleet by the end of 2014, an increase of 3.1 percent from the previous year. About 4 percent of the jets were Eastern-built. Of the almost 6,000 commercial turboprops, 19 percent were Eastern-built. There were 18,528 business jets in the worldwide fleet last year, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2013. The commercial turboprop inventory decreased 2 percent from the previous year. The number of active aircraft among these, those actually flying, is somewhat less. About 8 percent of the turbojet fleet is inactive, and that includes 44 percent of the Eastern-built inventory. Approximately 13.5 percent of the turboprop fleet is inactive, and for the fifth consecutive year, there are inactive business jets, which account for 2.5 percent of the fleet.
- Destroyed means the aircraft is not repairable, or if it is repairable, the Ascend Damage Index (ADI) is over 50 percent. The ADI is calculated by dividing the cost of repairs by the cost of the aircraft when it was new.
- This includes aircraft that have a maximum takeoff weight of at least 12,500 lb (5,670 kg) or that have more than 14 seats.
- An upset aircraft accident is one in which the aircraft is upset and unintentionally flown into a position from which the crew is unable to recover due to either aircrew, aircraft or environmental factors or a combination of these. These accidents sometimes are called “loss of control” accidents — a sometimes misleading term because in nearly half of all loss of control accidents in recent years, there was no literal loss of control. However, in 100 percent of loss of control accidents, the aircraft was upset.