2014 Was The Safest Year Ever… Sorta

From sliding jetliners in New York to Harrison Ford’s smashed WWII trainer, there are quite a few high-profile crashes in the news these days. But fear not. Commercial aviation is safer than ever. In fact, 2014 was commercial aviation’s safest year ever, according to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). Well, it was sort of the safest year ever.

Aircraft at Boston Logan International Airport. Wikipedia Commons Photo: Steven Agre

Aircraft at Boston Logan International Airport. Wikipedia Commons Photo: Steven Agre

The IATA said in a Mar. 9 press release, that last year there was only one accident for every 4.4 million flights. And this is pretty good. They boil this number down to 0.23 hull losses (when an aircraft is not or cannot be repaired after an accident) for every one million flights. In 2013 there was one accident for every 2.9 million flights or 0.41 losses per million.  From 2009-2013 the average is 0.58. According to these numbers, 2014 was a good year.

But there is a catch.

The IATA also says that there were 12 fatal accidents last year.  In total, there were 641 fatalities. The five years before showed an average of 19 fatal accidents per year, but there was an average of 514 fatalities. More people died in 2014 despite there being fewer accidents.

You can get a PDF of the statistics with greater detail here.

There are other important details to consider when looking at the numbers. Malaysia Airlines flight 17, the one that was shot down over Ukraine under suspicious circumstances, is not counted as an accident. Crashing as a result of an anti-aircraft attack does not qualify as accidental. In similar way, the IATA did not count the commercial aircraft involved in the Sept. 11 attacks as accidental crashes.

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was counted as a fatal accident. This flight disappeared a year ago over the South China Sea for unknown reasons.

2014 seemed to be a particularly bad year not just for Malaysia Airlines, but for Asian carriers in general. Take AirAisia flight QZ8501 for example. Tony Tyler, General Director and CEO of the IATA, told the New York Times that, “It would be a mistake to think that flying in Asia is unsafe, but it would also be naive to think there were no issues at all.”

“Any accident is one too many and safety is always aviation’s top priority,” Tyler said in the IATA’s press release. “While aviation safety was in the headlines in 2014, the data show that flying continues to improve its safety performance.”

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