As it’s now 2018, I think it’s time to reflect on one of the most remarkable things to happen in the airline industry in 2017. No, I’m not talking about the creative methods that airlines have used to add fees and remove passengers from overbooked flights, but rather I’m talking about safety.
2017 was the safest year on record for commercial air travel, as airlines had zero accident deaths on commercial passenger jets last year.
Now, I think it’s important to point out that the above “zero fatality” statistic is specific to jets (meaning it excludes props), and it’s specific to commercial aircraft (meaning it excludes cargo jets). In early 2017 we saw a cargo 747 crash in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, killing 39 people (four on the plane and 35 on the ground), and just yesterday we saw a Nature Air Cessna 208 Grand Caravan crash in Costa Rica, killing 12 people onboard.
Reuters notes that in 2017 there were a total of 10 fatal airliner accidents (all of which were prop planes or cargo jets), resulting in 79 deaths (44 passengers and 35 people on the ground). This is a significant improvement over 2016, when there were 16 accidents resulting in 303 deaths. Just to show how much safety has improved, as recently as 2005 there were 1,015 commercial passenger deaths worldwide, so that’s an incredible improvement.
To me it’s just a miracle how safe aviation is. While I realize planes are highly automated nowadays, there’s still a lot of human input involved, and all it takes for disaster to strike is for one little thing to go wrong. It’s clear that while airlines might be nickel and diming when it comes to their passenger experience, for the most part they aren’t cutting corners with safety.
The fact that 2017 was so safe is especially impressive when you consider how much global aviation has grown the past few years, and in particular, how many new low cost carriers we’ve seen emerge lately. With the increased demand for pilots, we’re seeing more pilots with less experience at the controls of airliners. In terms of pilot error, in many ways you’d think aviation would be safest during a recession when generally pilots aren’t being hired, since you’d assume the average pilot in the cockpit has the most experience during those times. But clearly that isn’t totally the case.
A big thanks to all the people — pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, rampers, etc. — who work tirelessly to make aviation as safe as it is.