Review points to gap in air safety

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THERE were no fatal accidents among British airlines last year and only one person was killed on a major European airline, according to Flight International's annual review of aircraft safety. But the magazine said air safety standards had fallen in China and the former Soviet Union.

The fatal European crash involved a Lufthansa Airbus 320 which overran the runway at Warsaw in a rainstorm. One person died in the ensuing fire. Overall, it was an average year for air safety, with 1,104 people being killed in 46 accidents involving commercial aircraft, almost exactly the average for the past 10 years of 1,054 deaths.

The worst disaster involved an SAM Colombia 727 which crashed into the mountainside near Medellin in Colombia killing 132 of the 134 occupants after beginning its descent too early.

The report's author, David Learmount, found that bad weather was responsible for 16 accidents involving 346 deaths, an unusually high percentage. There were more than a dozen non-fatal accidents involving bad weather in which the aircraft were write-offs.

Mr Learmount said: 'It is the degree of an aircraft's vulnerability to the weather which aircrew seem frequently to forget or misjudge.'

The survey highlights the increasing rate of accidents in the former Soviet Union and in China. Flight International comments that in the former Soviet Union, 'safety standards are lower than they were a few years ago'. The chances of being killed on a flight in those countries is 1 per 1.25 million compared with 1 per over 10 million in North America and Europe.

In China, the rapid growth of air travel is said to be putting all parts of the industry, from air traffic control to pilot training, under stress. Four of the 10 crashes involving major scheduled flights were in China.