Aviation safety in 2022: More than 170 killed in fatal plane crashes including China flight disaster

Exclusive: ‘The fatal accident rate is better than average over the last 10 years’ – Adrian Young, To70

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 01 January 2023 23:49 GMT
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Rescuers form human chain to save passengers after plane crashes into lake in Tanzania

Six fatal air accidents during 2022 claimed 174 lives of passengers and crew, together with four people on the ground.

Despite these tragedies, it was one of the safest years for commercial air travel in history. The figures are revealed in the latest Civil Aviation Safety Review by a leading expert.

Adrian Young, of the Dutch consultancy To70, concludes that despite flight numbers returning towards 2019 levels, there was not a corresponding increase in fatal accidents.

Search and rescue workers search through debris at the China Eastern flight crash site in Tengxian County

He writes: “The post-Covid recovery that everyone expected came in 2022. Whilst it was a difficult summer with capacity issues at airports, leading to long queues at terminals, the recovery has not resulted in a higher accident rate.

“The current rate of one fatal accident every four and a quarter million flights and this year’s fatal accident rate is better than average over the last 10 years.”

The aviation death toll of 174 corresponds to the average number of fatalities on the roads in an hour and a quarter worldwide.

The United Nations says that 1.3 million people die each year on the roads worldwide, with road traffic accidents the leading cause of death for people aged five to 29 years.

The first fatal air crash of 2022 accounted for three-quarters of the year’s death toll.

On 21 March, China Eastern flight 5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou when it entered a near-vertical dive and crashed into a mountainside. All 132 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 737-800 were killed.

Rescue workers search for the black box after the China Eastern crash that killed more than 130 people

The Wall Street Journal later reported US officials believed the plane had been deliberately put into a nosedive by someone on the flight deck.

The next fatal accident, in Nepal on 29 May, claimed 22 lives. The Tara Air tragedy was the 12th fatal crash involving a commercial aircraft in the Himalayan kingdom in 12 years.

The Independent reported: “The nation’s domestic airlines tend to use old, ill-maintained aircraft; the Twin Otter involved in the latest tragedy was around 40 years old.

The aerial image shared by the Nepalese army shows the wreckage of the Tara Air flight

“There is inadequate training in, and enforcement of, accepted international aviation standards.

“All the nation’s airlines are banned from the EU because safety officials have no faith in Nepal’s aviation regulator.”

The only other accident with a death toll in double figures was in Tanzania on 6 November. Nineteen people died when an ATR42 belonging to Precision Air came down in Lake Victoria.

Flight PW494 from Dar es Salaam was approaching its destination, Bukoba, during treacherous weather conditions.

Two people were also killed in two freak accidents on the ground. The first was on 2 September, when a TAP Portugal Airbus A320 landed at Conakry in Guinea at the end of a routine flight from Lisbon – and struck a motorcycle being ridden on the runway by two men, both of whom died.

Rescuers search for survivors after a Precision Air flight plunged into Lake Victoria, Tanzania

Two firefighters lost their lives on the runway at Lima in Peru on 18 November in a bizarre accident that saw a Latam Airbus A320 burst into flames after a collision with a fire truck.

It appears that the aircraft had been cleared for take-off even though a fire truck was about to embark on a planned high-speed training run.

The aeroplane was severely damaged and a number of passengers were injured,”  Mr Young’s report says.

Also in Peru, a single passenger died on 20 September when a Jetstream 32 belonging to Saeta overran the runway while attempting take-off at El Estrecho airport close to the Colombian border.

Nineteen people died in the Tanzania crash in November

Overall, there was one fatal accident for every 4.17 million flights. The rate has been in the range one per 4 million to one per 5 million every year since 2015, except in 2017 when it was lower and 2018 when it was higher.

The safety review warns: “One trend in 2022 that might, we stress, might, relate to a loss of skills following the Covid lockdowns, relates to ground handling.

“Three of the accidents, all non-fatal, involved ground handling equipment striking aircraft with a force to seriously damage them. An airbridge, a baggage belt and a set of stairs were involved in the three incidents; two in Europe and one in the US.

Mr Young also comments on the growing focus on sustainable flight and airport operations.

“To date, developments in this field have not had an impact on safety,” he writes.  “However, future developments may well require careful scrutiny to ensure that we do not introduce new risks to civil aviation.”

Aviation figures

2021: 38 accidents, of which 4 were fatal; 81 fatalities.

2022: 33 accidents of which 6 were fatal; 178 fatalities.

Source: To70

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