Safety record silver lining amid dark clouds in the sky
April 09 2020 12:09 AM
A passenger plane departs at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, US. The airline industry saw its safety performance improve in 2019, as the number of total accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities all declined compared to 2018 as well as to the five-year trend lines, even as the number of flights rose to a record 46.8mn.

Nearly 4.54bn travellers, the equivalent of more than half the world’s population, flew on 46.8mn flights around the globe in 2019. 
The number of flights reached a record level and number of passengers last year too was higher than in 2018. 
International Civil Aviation Organisation figures show the number of air departures across the globe last year increased by 38mn, with airlines transporting a total of 4.3bn passengers in 2018.
Even as aviation faces its deepest crisis globally due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the severe blanket of travel restrictions, the safety performance achieved by the airline industry in 2019 is remarkable. 
The industry saw its safety performance improve in 2019, as the number of total accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities all declined compared to 2018 as well as to the five-year trend lines, even as the number of flights rose to a record 46.8mn.
Last year, there were only 53 aircraft accidents and 240 fatalities, according to International Air Transport Association.
The all accident rate (including Substantial Damage and Hull Loss accidents for IATA and non-IATA jets and turboprops) improved from 1.36 accidents per million sectors in 2018 to 1.13 in 2019. 
The 2019 all accident rate of 1.13 was also an improvement over the rolling five-year average rate of 1.56 per million sectors for 2014-2018.
The number of fatalities in 2019 decreased compared to 2018 (240 versus 523).
The all accident rate for airlines on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry was 0.92 per 1mn sectors, versus 1.63 for non-IOSA airlines.
All regions except for Latin America and the Caribbean showed improvement when compared to their respective five-year rates, IATA said in its recent safety report. Accidents involving turboprop aircraft represented 41.5% of all accidents in 2019 and 50% of fatal accidents.
That said, the global grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft following the two crashes of this model of aircraft (Lion Air — October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines — March 10, 2019) shocked and challenged the air transport industry no end.
Worse still, these two tragedies occurred only four months apart under what appeared to be broadly similar circumstances.
But over the past decade, the industry generally witnessed a 54% improvement in its all-accident rate and a 78% improvement in its jet hull loss accident rate. The trend for the “business of freedom” is clearly toward fewer and less-lethal airline accidents. Fluctuations, though, do occur from year to year.
“The safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is aviation’s highest priority. The release of the 2019 Safety Report is a reminder that even as aviation faces its deepest crisis, we are committed to making aviation even safer,” points out Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.
“Based on the 2019 fatality risk, on average, a passenger could take a flight every day for 535 years before experiencing an accident with one fatality on board. But we know that one accident is one too many. Every fatality is a tragedy and it is vital that we learn the correct lessons to make aviation even safer,” de Juniac said.
Another major safety hazard is turbulence; passenger and cabin crew injuries related to in-flight turbulence seem to be climbing. 
For this reason, in 2018, IATA addressed this safety hazard with the introduction of ‘Turbulence Aware’, a global platform for sharing automatically generated turbulence reports in real time. 
A number of airlines conducted trials of Turbulence Aware in 2019, and IATA says it plans to launch the platform globally this year.
IATA Turbulence Aware consolidates, standardises, and accesses in real time objective turbulence data collected from multiple airlines worldwide. The platform’s purpose is to grant airline pilots and airline operational centre personnel a detailed, real-time awareness of turbulence. This IATA initiative is leading the air transport industry’s shift to data-driven turbulence mitigation.
Every accident, of course, is a tragedy. And that makes the aviation industry all the more determined to improve on its safety record each successive year.
Fortunately, safety is a top priority in global aviation. And what is learned from every accident investigation is also vital to improving safety performance even further.

* Pratap John is Business Editor at Gulf Times.

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