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7 Jan, 2012

Public Safety: Aviation Remains Well Ahead of Road Transport

Thailand ended the New Year long holiday with a road casualty count of 335 deaths and 3,375 injured. Compare this carnage over a mere seven days to only 707 fatalities in all of 2010 in the scheduled commercial air transport sector worldwide.

The comparison shows that while road transport remains one of the least safe and worst controlled, global commercial air transport remains far ahead in both departments, thanks to stringent safety regulations, implemented industry-wide with zero-tolerance for lapses.

In December 2011, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) released an inaugural report entitled “2011 State of Global Aviation Safety.” It shows that global commercial air transport experienced a total of 121 accidents of which 19 were fatal, involving 707 fatalities. Based on a total of 30.55 million scheduled commercial flight departures, the number of accidents tallies at only four per million departures.

According to ICAO, the report is intended to provide Member States, the aviation community and the travelling public with a “high-level analysis of air transport safety trends and indicators.” It is also a comprehensive account of the significant aviation safety programmes being undertaken by ICAO and its partners to enhance air transport safety outcomes worldwide.

It provides a detailed analysis of accidents during 2010 as well as a review of accidents since 2005. The data used in the analyses are for aircraft providing scheduled commercial air transport having a maximum take-off weight exceeding 2250 kg. This type of traffic accounts for more than 60% of the total fatalities, the report says.

It says that scheduled commercial air transport departures in 2010 were up 4.5% over the 29.25 million annual departures in 2009.

However, because 2010 experienced a 7.1% year-over-year increase in the total number of accidents over 2009, the 2010 accident rate increased slightly from 3.9 to 4.0 accidents per million departures.

The report says that Asia had the highest annual commercial air transport growth rate during 2005–2010, but accounted for 20% of all accidents, 47% of all fatal accidents and 67% of all fatalities.

It says that ICAO has identified 3 high-risk accident occurrence categories: runway safety related events, loss of control in-flight and controlled flight into terrain. Worldwide, these three categories cover 66% of the total number of accidents, 73% of fatal accidents and 66% of number of fatalities.

Runway safety accidents represent 59% of all accidents, accounting for 29% of all fatal accidents and 19% of all related fatalities reported between 2006 and 2010.

Says the report, “While the loss of control in-flight occurrence category represents only 4% of all accidents, this category is of significant concern as it accounts for 22% of all fatal accidents and 29% of all fatalities. Similarly, accidents related to controlled flight into terrain account for only 3% of all accidents but represent 22% of all fatal accidents and 17% of fatalities.”

It says that the total number of accidents experienced annually is more or less stable since 2005 at approximately 120 events per year.

While the regional distribution of accidents is relatively consistent, ranging between 13% and 29% across five UN regions, the notable exception is Oceania which accounts for only 3% of all accidents.

Asia, the region with the highest annual traffic growth rate during the 2005–2010 period, accounts for 20% of all accidents, but for 47% of all fatal accidents and 67% of all fatalities.

Even if North America had both the highest traffic volume and greatest number of accidents (29% of the total), no fatal accidents were experienced in the region in 2010, the report says.

The ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) continues to promote the systematic implementaion of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). As of the end of 2010, the USOAP had completed assessments of 93% of ICAO Member States, accounting for 99% of the traffic flown.

Says the report, “The safety levels that global air transport enjoys today represent an achievement built on the determination and efforts of the entire aviation community.”

It says that the comprehensive review of safety-related initiatives and successes in the State of Global Aviation Safety report itself is in line with ICAO’s recognition of “the importance of informing its Member States, aviation stakeholders and the traveling public about the status of global aviation safety.”

It provides information that can serve as a basis for informed decisions on how to best continue improving aviation safety outcomes. “By providing this information in a clear and easy-to-understand format, ICAO has sought to promote improved accountability while ensuring consistency with its strategic objectives.”

The aviation community has witnessed a fundamental shift in its approach to safety over the last 10 years. “The evolution of these strategies is critical to ensure that international civil aviation remains the safest mode of transportation even as it continues to accommodate the significant growth in global populations and air travel forecast for the near future.”

Future ICAO Safety Reports will be published annually.