Air safety 2023: Accidents and fatalities at record low

No scheduled passenger jets were involved in fatal crashes in 2023

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 01 January 2024 12:19 GMT
2023: The safest year for aviation

Commercial aviation was safer in 2023 than in any previous year. According to a leading air safety expert, last year set a new record for the fewest accidents and deaths.

Only two fatal accidents occurred during the 12 months, compared with six in 2022.

In both crashes, propeller aircraft came down on domestic flights, with a total of 86 deaths – fewer than half the 178 fatalities in 2023. For comparison, 148 people die in the average hour on the world’s roads according to the latest UN figures.

No fatal aircraft accidents involved international flights or passenger jets.

In a civil aviation safety review for the Dutch air-safety organisation To70, senior aviation consultant Adrian Young writes: “Both the number of accidents and fatalities are at a record low.”

The fatal accident rate was less than one in 15 million flights – three times better than the 10-year average.

The first and deadliest crash was in Nepal on 15 January 2023. An ATR-72 belonging to Yeti Airlines took off and flew normally from Kathmandu to Pokhara, but plunged into a gorge one mile short of the runway.

The subsequent investigation found that high workload and stress on the flight deck was responsible.

Mr Young says the accident report revealed the pilots’ actions resulted in “the feathering of both propellers and subsequent loss of thrust, leading to an aerodynamic stall”.

The second fatal accident was in Brazil on 16 September 2023, when an Embraer 110 belonging to Manaus Airlines crashed on a flight from the Amazonian city to Barcelos during bad weather. All 14 passengers and crew died.

The safety of jet aircraft repeats the unlikely success of 2017, according to Mr Young.

“As the new year dawns and we look back across 2023, civil aviation finds itself in a similar position to 2017 with no fatal accidents to large turbofan powered, passenger aeroplanes in commercial service,” he writes. This category encompasses everything from commuter jets of the type used at London City airport to the Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo”.

The notorious crash of a private jet carrying the boss of Russia’s Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is excluded.

The plane crashed with the loss of all 10 on board on 23 August 2023 during a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg. Reports claim an ally of Vladimir Putin was responsible for placing a bomb on the Embraer 135 aircraft.

International law requires countries to involve the nation where the plane was made, in this case Brazil. But Russia refused to involve the Brazilian authorities or the aircraft manufacturer in the investigation. Mr Young describes this as “an unwelcome step that goes against the collaborative nature of accident investigation and does not help with the main reason to investigate accidents; the learning of lessons”.

The safety expert warns of “a number of incidents and non-fatal accidents that require the industry to remain vigilant”.

He writes: “Regardless of how low the accident rate in 2023 has been, there is no cause for complacency.

“Aviation remains a risk-laden industry and as airports around the world report that movements are reaching the same level as in 2019, before the Covid 19 crisis, a number of issues have not gone away.

“Serious injuries due to turbulence remain an ever-present factor in the year’s accidents.”

Eleven passengers aboard a charter flight from Barbados to Manchester were hurt when their Airbus A330 encountered clear air turbulence over the Atlantic. The plane diverted to Bermuda on Christmas Eve.

This year will see the 10th anniversary of the two tragedies involving Boeing 777 aircraft belonging to Malaysia Airlines.

On 8 March 2014, flight MH370 disappeared while on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The jet is presumed to have come down in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. No trace has been found of the 227 passengers and 12 crew.

On 17 July 2014, flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed by a Russian missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew perished.

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