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2021 was safest year for flying since 2017

81 people lost their lives in four fatal air accidents worldwide last year, compared with 1.3 million who died on the roads

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 02 January 2022 14:47 GMT
Indonesian navy personnel carry debris believed to be from the missing Sriwijaya Air plane in January 2021
Indonesian navy personnel carry debris believed to be from the missing Sriwijaya Air plane in January 2021 (Reuters)

Far fewer people died in aviation tragedies in 2021 than in the previous year, a review of air safety reveals.

Dutch aviation safety consultancy To70 reports that 81 people lost their lives in four fatal accidents worldwide last year – compared with 299 fatalities in five crashes in 2020.

Relative to the level of flying, it was the safest year worldwide since 2017, with only one accident involving a passenger jet.

On 9 January 2021, Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 took off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, heading for Pontianak on the island of Borneo.

But the Boeing 737-500 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after departure, with the loss of all 62 passengers and crew.

The accident, which happened close to where Lion Air flight 610 came down on 29 October 2018, was blamed on a fault with the 26-year-old aircraft’s auto throttle.

The three other fatal accidents involved small passenger propellor planes in commercial services.

On 2 March 2021, 10 people died when a Let 410 belonging to South Sudan Supreme Airlines crashed in South Sudan. The accident was blamed on a mechanical problem.

The same aircraft type was involved in the third crash, on 12 September in Russia. Four people died when the Aeroservice Let 410 undershot the runway at Kazatjinskoje in Siberia and struck trees during an approach in poor visibility. Twelve people, including the captain, survived.

On 23 December in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Shorts 360 belonging to Malu Aviation crashed shortly after take-off from the eastern town of Shabunda.

There were 34 non-fatal accidents in 2021, one fewer than the previous year.

The fatal accident rate for large aeroplane in commercial air transport is one in 5.3 million, compared with one in 3.7 million in 2020. It is the lowest fatal accident rate since 2017.

Adrian Young, who compiled the review, called 2021 “another very difficult year for civil aviation”.

He said: “The continuing Covid crisis has resulted in the bankruptcy of over a dozen airlines this year. Two flag-carriers were among the casualties; Air Namibia and Alitalia.

“Many airlines and airports are carrying loans or have taken on additional debt to support themselves. Airports and their suppliers have also seen a marked drop in flights, passengers and revenue.

“Issues relating to refresher training following long periods of absence, working in a period of underload – ie not enough stimuli or motivation to perform optimally – and mental health issues are all factors that the industry is striving to tackle.”

Mr Young warned that aviation incident data suggest that that unpreparedness or unfamiliarity following periods of inactivity is affecting flight safety.

“We hope that the efforts to minimise the new threats posed to civil aviation by that crisis are sufficiently suppressed by the initiatives being taken across the industry,” he said.

Around 1.3 million people die on the roads worldwide in the average year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – a rate of 150 fatalities every hour.

WHO says: “Road traffic crashes cost most countries 3 per cent of their gross domestic product”.

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