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The world's safest airlines

THE RAIN MAN was wrong: the world's best air safety record does not belong to Qantas, even though the Australian airline has never suffered a passenger fatality. An American carrier, Southwest, also boasts a fatality- free record, and since it started up in 1971 has flown 6 million flights - against a mere million by Qantas.

The latest air accident figures from the US Department of Transportation, which cover aviation since 1970, reveal many other scheduled airlines that have achieved a "fatal event rate" of zero.

The best performance - after Southwest - is SAS. The Scandinavian airline has flown 5.4m journeys without a fatality. Ansett of Australia has managed 2.5m accident-free flights. Finnair, Sabena of Belgium and Aer Lingus have all beaten the million barrier. They are joined in North America by Canadian Airlines and America West.

The best performance from a scheduled British airline is Air UK, which has operated 800,000 flights safely since 1970. Virgin Atlantic also scores a zero, but on only 50,000 flights since it began in 1984. The new low- cost carriers Debonair, easyJet and Go also have flawless records, though neither they - nor any charter airline - appear in the DoT figures. Britannia Airways, the UK's biggest charter carrier, says it has operated 2 million flights since 1970 without a fatal accident, which puts it among the world's safest airlines.

TACA of El Salvador, Air Jamaica and Kenya Airways also get a zero rating.