Aviation

Study: Exactly how common are fatal crashes?

Laine Fullerton

Based on data from 2017, a person would need to catch a commercial flight every day for an average of 6,033 years before experiencing a plane accident with at least one fatality.

And that doesn’t necessarily have to be you.

In fact, you’d be pretty unlucky if it was.

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released its ‘2017 Airline Safety Performance’  which addresses the likelihood of an aviation accident.

It revealed 2017 was the safest year in terms of passenger fatalities since at least 2005, so that’s good news.

According to the IATA, there were six fatal accidents with 19 fatalities among passengers and crew in 2017.

To put it into perspective, 2016 witnessed nine fatal accidents and 202 fatalities, and the average in the previous five-year period (2012-2016) has been 10.8 fatal accidents and 315 fatalities.

IATA director general and chief executive officer, Alexandre de Juniac said: “2017 was a very good year for aviation safety.”

“Some 4.1 billion travellers flew safely on 41.8 million flights.”

But perhaps this rarity of experiencing a fatal plane accident will be short-lived, particularly when passengers are already not taking plane emergencies seriously enough.

An American Airlines flight out of Chicago in 2016 saw passengers refuse to leave the aircraft without their carry-on bags, stalling evacuation and endangering lives after an engine blow out during takeoff.

However, this lack of seriousness isn’t just coming from passengers, as some airlines have also come under fire.

Air New Zealand was recently criticised for their “World’s Coolest Safety Video” which showcases the frozen continent of Antarctica.

While it may appear acceptable on the outset, the clip fails to recognise a major plane crash in 1979 where an Air New Zealand flight flew into Antarctica’s Mount Erebus, instantly killing the 257 passengers on board.

David Ling, whose mother Alison Ling died in the crash, told the New Zealand Herald: “To be on board and confronted by a safety video you’re obliged to watch set in Antarctica is beyond ironic.”

Despite this irreverent behaviour from some passengers and airlines, last year’s airline safety performance brings hope that the future comes with safer flights.

“Complementing that knowledge [from accidents] are insights we can gain from the millions of flights that operate safely,” de Juniac said.

“Data from these operations is powering the development of predictive analytics that will eventually enable us to eliminate the conditions that can lead to accidents.”

The IATA will continue with its six-point safety strategy to identify organisational, operational and emerging safety issues.

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