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Airline safety: 2017 was safest year in history for passengers around world, research shows

But air safety expert says 'It is unlikely that this historic low will be maintained' and warns of risk of electronic devices causing inflight fires

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 01 January 2018 11:18 GMT
That an Air France A380 lost an engine over the Atlantic and landed safely this year is 'testament to the robustness' of the aircraft
That an Air France A380 lost an engine over the Atlantic and landed safely this year is 'testament to the robustness' of the aircraft (AFP/Getty)

In a year when more people flew to more places than ever, 2017 was the safest on record for airline passengers.

The Dutch-based aviation consultancy, To70, has released its Civil Aviation Safety Review for 2017. It reports only two fatal accidents, both involving small turbo-prop aircraft, with a total of 13 lives lost.

No jets crashed in passenger service anywhere in the world.

The two crashes which occurred on New Year’s Eve – a seaplane in Sydney which killed six, and a Cessna Caravan which crashed in Costa Rica, killing all 12 on board – are not included in the tally, since both aircraft weighed under 5,700kg - the threshold for the report.

The first fatal accident included in the report was in October: an Embraer Brasilia operating as an air ambulance in Angola. The pilots lost control after reportedly suffering an engine failure, Seven people died, including the patient.

In November, a Czech-built Let 410 belonging to Khabarovsk Avia crashed on landing at Nelkan in the Russian Far East with the loss of six lives. A four-year-old girl was the only survivor.

Video supposedly shows seaplane flying moments before Hawkesbury River crash in Australia

A much higher death toll occurred in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, when a Turkish Boeing 747 freighter belonging to ACT AIrlines overshot the runway and ended up in a village close to the airport, killing 35 on the ground as well as four crew.

In addition, jet blast killed a tourist standing close to the runway on the Caribbean island of St Maarten.

The chances of a plane being involved in a fatal accident is now one in 16 million, according to the lead researcher, Adrian Young.

But Mr Young, senior aviation consultant for To70, told The Independent: “It is unlikely that this historic low will be maintained; in part, these very positive figures rest on good fortune. Nevertheless, the safety level that civil aviation has achieved is remarkable”.

He cautioned: “The risks to civil aviation remain high as shown by the seriousness of some of the non-fatal accidents.” They included, he said, “the spectacular loss of the inlet fan and cowling of an engine on an Air France A380” over Greenland in September.

“That the aeroplane continued to operate safely to a diversion airport and was then flown home for repair on three engines says a lot about the robustness of the aeroplane.”

The report warns that electronic devices in checked-in bags pose a growing potential danger: “The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in electronics creates a fire risk on board aeroplanes as such batteries are difficult to extinguish if they catch fire.

“Airlines worldwide are training their crews to fight any fires in the cabin; the challenge is keeping such batteries out of passenger luggage.”

In 2016, 271 people lost their lives in seven fatal events. They included the crash of an Egyptair flight from Paris to Cairo which killed 66, and a LaMia jet carrying the Brazilian football team Chapecoense which ran out of fuel in Colombia and crashed with the loss of 71 lives.

The death toll in the two previous years was significantly higher. In 2015, 471 people died in four crashes; they included a Metrojet flight from Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg, Russia, which killed 224, and a Germanwings Airbus A320 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf whose first officer, Andreas Lubitz, killed 150 on board by deliberately crashing into the French Alps,

In 2014, 864 people died in five crashes, including the losses of two Malaysia Airlines 777s: MH370, whose fate is still unknown, and MH17, downed by a missile over eastern Ukraine.

The UK has the best air-safety record of any major country. No fatal accidents involving a British airline have happened since the 1980s. The last was on 10 January 1989; 47 people died when a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed at Kegworth in Leicestershire.

In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has an accident rate 44 per cent worse than the global average, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In November, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general, said: “African safety has improved, but there is a gap to close.”

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