2007 was particularly good year for aviation safety

Friday, January 4, 2008

The scene of the TAM Linhas Aéreas Flight 3054 crash in Brazil. It was the worst aviation disaster of the year, with 199 fatalities.

Statistics supplied by a survey from the Geneva-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO) and by aviation insurance specialist Aon suggest that 2007 was an unusually good year for safety in the aviation industry. The ACRO reports that fatal aircraft accidents involving planes carrying over six people were at their lowest since 1963, while Aon reports that fatal accidents on commercial airliners totaled 23, which Flight International reports to be an all-time low.

ACRO reports that 136 crashes killed a total of 965 people worldwide. It says this is 28 fewer crashes than 2006, and also a 25% decrease in fatalities. Flight reported that 23 fatal commercial airliner crashes killed a total of 597 people. That accident rate is the lowest it has ever been, and both figures are well below the average for the last decade, which came in at 35.5 and 846.3 respectively. In 2006, 27 fatal commercial aviation accidents killed 863 people.

Aon reports that in 2007 there were 47 commercial hull loss accidents, including all 23 fatal accidents. That includes three accidents involving mishaps occurring to parked aircraft (including China Airlines Flight 120, a Boeing 737-800 that caught fire at the gate with passengers still on board). One hull loss is not included in the statistics; an Airbus A340-600 was destroyed after it rammed a wall during ground testing in Toulouse, but was not counted because the new aircraft was still with Airbus and was yet to be delivered to its first owner, Etihad Airways.

"In 2007, more than two billion were traveling worldwide and we have thousands and thousands of aircraft, airplanes flying every day worldwide, it means that airplanes, aviation is one of the safest transport modes in the world," said Ronan Hubert, aviation accident historian and head of ACRO.

According to Hubet, the highest number of accidents recorded in an individual country was 34 in the United States, followed by Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and Indonesia. However, he defended US air safety, pointing out that North America accounts for most of the world's air traffic and therefore it was to be expected that there would be a high level of accidents there. He went on to criticise African air safety, which is so poor that most African airlines are on the list of air carriers banned in the EU. He blamed this on political factors. "We know today that countries like Somalia, Sudan and DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], they are totally unsafe," said Hubert. "But, we know why. Somalia is today a country of which you have a civil war for many years. Sudan, you have big problem of corruption. You have the Darfur problem. You have the civil war also and on the DRC there is plenty of corruption problems also."

Hubert makes a distinction between fly-by-night operators in several African countries and reputable national carriers in most African countries. He says national carriers in Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, the North African countries and others are reliable and safe. He says international flights to and from Africa are not the problem, as most of the plane crashes and deaths take place during internal flights in Africa by small, dangerous carriers.

The worst aviation disaster all year was the crash of TAM Linhas Aéreas Flight 3054, an Airbus A320 that overan the runway at Congonhas-São Paulo International Airport in Brazil killing 187 on board and 12 on the ground. The disaster was one of just two fatal commercial passenger aircraft accidents that did not either occur in the third world or involve an aircraft registered there. The other was the crash of UTair Flight 471, a Tupolev Tu-134 which crashed while attempting to land at Samara Kurumoch Airport, Russia, killing six of the 57 passengers on board.

Congo saw more fatal commercial air crashes than any other country. Four cargo aircraft and two Let 410 passenger flights suffered fatal crashes. One of these accidents involved an Africa One plane which came down in the capital of Kinshasa, killing many on the ground. Indonesia also had a particularly poor year, with two major disasters. Adam Air Flight 574 crashed near Sulawesi; all 102 on board are missing, presumed dead. Later, Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 shot off the runway at Yogykarta International Airport, killing 22. Indonesia also saw another Adam Air plane in a major nonfatal accident, as Flight 172 snapped in two after a hard landing.