Last Year Was Good For Airline Safety Despite Boeing Issues

Accident rate calculated at one in 2 million flights.

view from airplane window
The airlines posted a reasonably safe year, though 11 of 20 fatal accidents occurred within North America.Julie Boatman

The Aviation Safety Network, an arm of the Flight Safety Foundation, reported 2019 was still one of the industry’s safest, despite the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max in March that claimed 157 lives. Last year wasn’t accident-free, however. ASN says 20 airline accidents around the world claimed 283 lives. Even when accounting for those 283 fatalities, 2019 ranked as the seventh safest year on record for the airlines.

Last year, 11 of the 20 fatal accidents occurred in North America, however—a significant increase over past years. In 2018 one fatal accident was reported, while in 2017 there were three. Five of the accidents that occurred in North America last year took place in rugged or remote areas of Alaska or Canada.

The worst airline accident recorded in the U.S. last year followed the February crash of a cargo-carrying Boeing 767 while on approach to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Outside North America, additional accidents occurred in Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, Tanzania, Ukraine, Columbia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The worst of these (aside from that of the Ethiopian flight) was the crash of a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 in Moscow that took the lives of 41 of the 78 people aboard.

While not involving an airliner, the accident that caused the most fatalities in the U.S. last year happened in early October, when a vintage Boeing B-17 operated by the Collings Foundation crashed shortly after takeoff, killing seven of the 13 people on board.

Despite the grim-sounding data, ASN calculated the fatal accident rate at just one per 2 million flights. ASN’s CEO Harro Ranter said that indicates a significant improvement in safety over the years. “If the accident rate last year [had] remained the same as 10 years ago, there would have been 34 accidents last year.” At the accident rate of 20 years ago, there would have been 65 fatal crashes.

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