Aviation safety by the numbers

2014 has already broken the improving aviation safety pattern of recent years. The death toll so far this year already surpasses the number for each of the three previous years. Here's a quick look at aviation safety by the numbers.

Recent years have been the safest but not 2014

A line of Boeing 787 Dreamliners waiting to be delivered are shown on a closed runway at Paine Field near Boeing's Everett, Wash. assembly plant. 2013 was the safest year on record for commercial aviation. 2014's fatality total will be higher. (Associated Press) (Associated Press)

July has been a dangerous month for airline passengers. 

The month hasn't quite ended and there's already been three major crashes, resulting in 464 deaths, flights to Tel Aviv were cancelled because of safety concerns over the fighting in Gaza and, on Friday, F-16 jets were scrambled to escort a Sunwing Boeing 737 back to Toronto after a passenger allegedly made threats to flight safety.

And we still don't really know what happened to Malaysia Airline Flight MH370, which disappeared mysteriously on March 8 with 239 people onboard, setting off an international hunt in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Airlines accidents are rare, and 2013 was, in fact the safest year on record for air travel, measured by the death toll. 

But 2014 has already broken the improving aviation safety pattern of recent years. The death toll so far this year already surpasses the number for each of the three previous years.

Here's a quick look at aviation safety by the numbers. All statistics below are worldwide, unless stated otherwise. 

Fatal accidents

There were 19 aviation accidents that involved fatalities in 2013. Since 1946, only 2012 had fewer.

Only 10 of those fatal incidents were on commercial passenger flights, and matches the lowest number ever, for the fourth time, along with the years 2004, 2009 and 2012.

The annual average for the first four years this decade was 21.5 air accidents with fatal outcomes. The annual average in the 1970s was 40, almost twice as many.

For 2013, there was one fatal accident for every 1.9 million flights, which was better than the five-year average of one per 1.6 million flights.

According to Flightglobal, a data and information source on the aviation industry, "based on this metric, airline operations are now almost three times safer than they were 20 years ago."

Last year, 220 passengers and crew were killed (162 of them during commercial travel.) That's the fewest airline fatalities in more than 60 years, though it is a statistic that specifically excludes acts of violence. 

The annual average for the first four years of this decade, 490, is one-third what the annual average was in the 1970s.

Some context

Last year, three billion people flew on 36.4 million flights.

This month, July 2014, has 2.9 million scheduled flights and 395 million scheduled global airline seats. That's a two per cent increase in flights and a four per cent increase in seats from last July.

Only 18 per cent of the world's airports have an average of more than 50 scheduled flights per day.

The busiest airspace in the world is above Atlantic City International Airport on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. (40° N, 75° W). Each day, some 5,500 flights cross those coordinates.

The outlook for aviation safety

An international survey of 2,000 aviation personnel by Flightglobal in the fall of 2013 identified certain issues these individuals considered "significant threats" to airline safety:

  • 38 per cent said fatigue/work practice involving pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers;
  • 33 per cent said a shortage of experienced personnel;
  • 28 per cent cited complacency;
  • 27 per cent identified airline management experience, attitude and/or culture.

Just over half, 52 per cent of those surveyed, expected airline safety would improve, while 13 per cent said it would get worse over the next five years.

Statistics Sources: Flightglobal, IATA, OAG (formerly Official Airline Guide)


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