x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Banner year for safety in global aviation

Flying has never been safer, according to the International Airline Transport Association, unless you happen to be flying in Africa.

The safety record of Middle East airlines improved during the year. Toussant Klujters / AFP
The safety record of Middle East airlines improved during the year. Toussant Klujters / AFP

Flying has never been safer, according to the International Airline Transport Association (Iata), unless you happen to be flying in Africa.

To November 30 this year, not one of the global airline industry body's 243 members had lost an airliner to an accident - the best safety performance in the history of aviation.

And no Iata member passenger died as a result of an accident on a western-built jet. That compares with 1985, the worst safety year in aviation history, when more than 1,800 were killed in plane crashes.

The figures emerged as Iata raised its predicted profit forecast for the global airline industry this year by US$2.6 billion (Dh9.55bn), but warned the performance was still not good enough and there were still "trying times ahead".

Günther Matschnigg, Iata's senior vice president for safety, told the meeting the industry safety performance had broken records.

"The aviation industry has had an incredible safety performance," he said. "As of November 30 there was one accident per 5.3 million miles across the industry, but even more impressive is that Iata members had no hull loss accidents on western-built jets, against total western-built jet losses of five, compared with 11 last year.

"This global safety performance is the best ever recorded. If you were to take a flight every day, the odds are you would fly 14,000 years without being in an accident."

Most accidents resulting in damage - equivalent to 19 per cent of all accidents - involved airliners coming off the runway. Next was damage caused by undercarriage failures, causing 18 per cent of accidents, and damage to airliners on the ground, while taxiing or parked. Those accounted for 16 per cent of accidents and cost the industry $4bn a year, said Mr Matschnigg.

However, figures for turboprops and jets not made by non western plane makers show there had been substantial damage and hull loss accidents, although the number of incidents were decreasing.

In the Middle East and North Africa there were 2.78 airliners lost per 1 million miles, a significant improvement for the same period last year when five were lost in the region.

North America had only 0.97 losses this year compared with 1.56 last year. But in Africa, losses of non-western airliners rose from 8.08 aircraft per million miles flown last year, to 12.69 so far this year.

However, significantly, none of those losses were suffered by airliners that were subject to Iata's operational safety audit scheme, said Mr Matschnigg.

"Africa is 57 per cent worse than at the same time last year," he said. "Between 2006 and 2011 the African accident rate varied between three to 12 times worse than the world average, yet African traffic only constituted less than a 3 per cent share of global traffic."

The main problems were airport infrastructure and pilot training, as well as the continent's ageing fleet. Iata proposals were now before the African Union to turn around its aviation safety culture by 2015, added Mr Matschnigg.

Iata was now working to improve its safety regime further with the introduction of new accident data analysis that will allow it to anticipate future problems before they happen instead of "just learning from mistakes", he added.

Tony Tyler, Iata's director general and chief executive, revealed the organisation had raised its industry financial outlook for this year and next. He told a conference at Iata headquarters in Geneva yesterday that airlines were expected to make a return of $6.7bn this year, up from its October forecast of just $4.1bn.

For next year, he predicted returns would be $8.4bn, compared with previous estimates of $7.5bn. However, net margins would remain weak at 1 per cent for 2012 and just 1.3 per cent for 2013.

"It's good news that the outlook is moving in a positive direction, but after taking in an expected $637bn in revenues, a net profit margin of just $6.7bn is just 1 per cent," said Mr Tyler. "The positive shift is not moving airlines anywhere near the 7 to 8 per cent that would be needed to cover the industry's cost of capital."