2019 has ended as the third safest year in commercial aviation ever, according to two specialist websites. Dutch Aviation Safety Network (ASN) recorded 283 casualties in 20 incidents with airliners and cargo aircraft, while Germany’s Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center (JACDEC) counted 293 fatalities.

Only 2017 (44 fatalities in 10 accidents) and 2013 (256 in 23 crashes) show a lower number of casualties, according to ASN data. In the past decade, 4.699 people lost their lives in 188 air incidents.

Despite 2019 being one of the safest years, there is something remarkable about last year’s safety record, remarks ASN’s Harro Ranter: the number of accidents. At 20, this has been the highest since 2013 (23) and even double that of both 2015 and 2017. There have been comparatively more accidents involving smaller turboprop aircraft, notably in North America. Five of them happened in Canada and Alaska, including three with Cessna 208 Caravans and two with DHC3s.
Thirteen accidents involved passenger aircraft, six cargo planes and one a WW2 bomber.

Commercial aviation safety has shown a huge improvement over previous decades, yet public perception and that of the entire industry in 2019 was dealt a blow by the most prominent accident: Ethiopian ET302 on March 10, with 157 losses. It would have been ‘just’ a tragedy if the crash hadn’t involved a brand new Boeing MAX 8 and had triggered the debate about the type’s safety, design, the certification and Boeings reputation that still continues into the new year.

A little short of two months later, tragedy struck in Moscow when 41 occupants were killed on an Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet that crash-landed with control issues, having been hit by lightning. Most casualties were unable to escape the raging fire, while many of those lucky enough to escape unhurt did so after collecting their hand luggage first.

The Bek Air crash on December 27 cost 12 occupants their lives when their Fokker 100 failed to get properly airborne in poor visibility at Almaty Airport in Kazakhstan. Details have yet to be studied, as is the case with more investigations. One of them still unsolved is that of the Prime Air Boeing 767 freighter that for no clear reason dived into Trinity Bay in Texas on February 23, with the loss of three lives.

ASN data show a fairly high number of crashes involving historical aircraft which despite their age was still in use on the day they crashed.

As Ranter remarks on his website, the improvement in safety is significant: “If the accident rate had remained the same as ten years ago, there would have been 34 fatal accidents last year. At the accident rate of the year 2000, there would even have been 65 fatal accidents. This shows the enormous progress in terms of safety in the past two decades.”

ICAO, FAA, and EASA will publish their own statistics later in the year.

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