The crash of an Indonesian passenger plane shortly after take-off from Jakarta Airport, with the loss of 189 lives, has focused attention once again on aviation safety.
Relative to some previous years, 2018 has already seen a significant number of accidents. In May, 112 people died when a domestic flight crashed shortly after take-off from Havana.
In March, 49 of the 71 passengers and crew on a flight to Kathmandu Airport perished when it crashed on the approach. An Iranian domestic flight crashed in February with the loss of 66 lives.
The first fatal accident of the year was also in February, when a Russian passenger plane crashed south of Moscow; 71 people died.
In response to reader requests, some key questions are answered here.
Which are the most dangerous airlines and countries for aviation?
Fortunately, fatal crashes are so rare that it is difficult to reach firm conclusions. However it is possible to identify some characteristics that tend to feature more often than the statistical norm among accidents.
Domestic flights in countries which are economically challenged appear to be vulnerable. They tend to use older aircraft. And while the age of a plane does not make it dangerous, the maintenance required is expensive and may not be carried out as rigorously in poorer nations.
If a country’s civil aviation authority properly enforces safety standards, there is no reason why a less wealthy country should have more dangerous aviation.
The European Union publishes a blacklist of airlines which are banned from EU airspace because of concerns about the oversight of safety. They are from Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Democratic Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone and Sudan. One airline from Angola and two from Gabon are allowed to operate “under restrictions and conditions”.
In addition, six airlines from other countries are banned because of specific concerns: Avior Airlines of Venezuela, Iran Aseman Airlines, Iraqi Airways, Blue Wing Airlines of Suriname, Med-View Airlines of Nigeria and Air Zimbabwe.
Any other specific worries?
Sightseeing flights, by fixed wing aircraft or helicopters, do not have a great record. This applies even in countries with outstanding safety records overall, such as the US and Australia.
Where are the safest airlines in the world?
Many of them operate to and from Britain, which among major nations has some outstandingly good characteristics. The last fatal passenger jet crash involving a UK airline was the Kegworth disaster, almost 30 years ago. British Airways has not suffered a fatal accident since 1986. And in terms of the metric of number of passengers flown without a fatal accident, the worldwide leader is Ryanair – whose main base of operations is the UK - with easyJet in second place.
Where is the safest place to sit on an aircraft?
That all depends on the type of crash. As many accidents are survivable, it is probably slightly safer to be beside an emergency exit than in other seats.
What can I do to minimise personal risk?
Watch the safety demonstration, identify the nearest emergency exit in front and behind you, and be sober. Those steps will help you evacuate a survivable accident more nimbly. But by far the best way to minimise danger when contemplating a journey involving a flight is not to travel by road to the airport. Road fatalities are several orders of magnitude more frequent than aviation deaths.
Making the land journey by rail is a very good way to reduce your overall risk exposure.
Taking fewer flights also helps, of course; the most dangerous parts of a journey are the ascent and descent. So choosing non-stops over indirect flights will reduce the danger. But the risks are thankfully so minuscule that I would never contemplate doing so on safety grounds.
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