Airline crashes make 2009 a deadly year in the skies

Decades of improvement in aviation safety could be at an end after rise in fatalities

Ever since the Wright brothers hovered precariously in the air for their first 12-second flight in 1903, mankind's quest to take to the skies safely has seen the risks of aviation gradually diminish. But after a century of technological improvements, new figures suggest that aviation safety may be in decline for the first time in its history.

The number of people killed in plane crashes in the first six months of this year was the highest since 2002, confirming an emerging trend that the safety of passenger aircraft is no longer improving. Two serious crashes in the first half of 2009 have seen the number of fatalities this year jump to 499, according statistics complied by Flight International. There were only 175 deaths in the first six months of last year. This year's figure was also well above the average for the decade of 344 deaths. It means that unless there is a dramatic fall in fatalities from now until the end of 2010, the 2000s will become the first decade since the Second World War in which there was no increase in aviation safety. In reality, that would amount to the first plateau in improving the safety of air travel since its inception, though statistics from before the War are difficult to compile. Provisional statistics compiled by the International Civil Aviation Organisation are also said to confirm the trend.

This year's statistics have been boosted by one incredibly unusual incident. The crash of an Air France jet last month was the first fatal incident involving a major flag-carrying airline and a Western-built plane since November 2001. All 228 people on board were killed when the Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic, during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. No cause has yet been identified. The other major contributor to the figure was the crash of a Yemenia Yemen Airlines plane, which ditched into the Indian Ocean at the end of last month, killing 154 passengers. There was only a single survivor.

Flight International said a failure to improve pilot training was behind the plateau in air safety. "When the investigators have completed their analyses of the accidents so far this year, they will find in all cases – with the possible exception of the [New York] Hudson River ditching [of an Airbus A320 in January 2009] – opportunities to prevent them were missed," it said. Its warning comes a year after the Flight Safety Foundation warned that airlines would need to go beyond the minimum training standards demanded by the world's regulators to improve the safety of air travel.

Carolyn Evans, the British Airline Pilots Association's head of flight safety, said pilots had long held concerns that training had focused too much on "automated processes" rather than preparing them with the basic flying skills of old. "Basic flying skills are just as important as ever but their demonstration can be easily overlooked," she said. "Initial pilot training is moving away from a hands on stick and rudder approach to an alternative training syllabus where the pilot trains almost totally in a passenger transport jet aircraft simulator.

"We have concerns as to whether this syllabus arms the newly trained pilot with the same basic skill level as previous generation pilots. The discouragement of manual flying during normal operations further erodes hands-on flying skills which need to be maintained in the same manner as any other, by frequent repetition."

Other experts believe the growth of small airlines from poorer countries is to blame. "As a result of liberalisation worldwide, we have a lot of new start-up airlines coming into the market," said Rigas Doganis, an aviation industry expert. "A lot of the accidents involve young airlines, particularly accidents where pilot error or human error is a significant factor, whether in the cockpit or in maintenance. It is an inevitable result of liberalisation and the growth of airlines without the history in maintenance and training. Over the 2000s, the accidents have come from newer airlines from Third World countries. It is very rarely the case that only one factor is the cause. It is usually many, and one of those factors may be human error due to inadequate training. But we cannot blame human error for all accidents."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat