Germanwings profile: Lufthansa subsidiary with formidable safety record latest airline in the spotlight following MH370 and MH17 crashes

Considerable attention has been focused on aircraft safety after a series of losses

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The Independent Online

Since March last year, a series of catastrophic losses has brought aviation safety into high profile.

The disappearance of MH370 a year ago was followed by the downing over Ukraine of another Malaysia Airlines jet, MH17, in July. The year ended with the AirAsia crash in December on a flight from Surabaya to Singapore, in which 155 passengers and seven crew died. What caused it to plunge into the Java Sea has not yet been ascertained, but it involved the same aircraft as today’s crash: the Airbus A320. And last month dramatic pictures emerged of a TransAsia Airways plane crashing shortly after take off from Taipei, with the loss of 35 lives.

Yet aviation remains extremely safe, especially in Western Europe. The last accident involving a British jet aircraft was in the 1980s.

The investigators now arriving at the crash site from Airbus in Toulouse and Germanwings’ parent airline, Lufthansa, will all be asking the question: how did a tragedy like this happen in the 21st century, in the safest part of the world for flying?

Lufthansa has a formidable safety record; the last incident was at Warsaw airport in 1993, in which a crew member and a passenger died.

Relatives of passengers killed in Germanwings plane crash arrive at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany

Germanwings is its low-cost subsidiary, set up to compete with the likes of easyJet and Ryanair on intra-European routes. It operates routes that do not start or end in the two main hubs of Frankfurt or Munich - such as this link between Barcelona and Dusseldorf.

The reputation of flight crew for the German airline is extremely good. Lufthansa has been involved in a long-running dispute with pilots about plans for the subsidiary. The Airbus A320 is, along with the Boeing 737, the backbone of short-haul flying the world over. Statistically, given the millions of flights in which it has been used, it has an excellent safety record - with only 10 fatal events since passenger service began in 1988.

Flight safety, ultimately, is based on discovering what went wrong in previous losses, and investigators will want to learn as quickly as possible what brought down 4U 9525 and brought tragedy to so many families.