The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released the latest, preliminary data for the 2019 safety performance of the commercial airline industry, indicating a decrease in worldwide fatal accident rate compared to the gloomy 2018 statistics. As of December 2, 2019, there were six fatal accidents, which resulted in the deaths of 227 passengers and crew, as well as 10 fatalities on the ground.

In the first half of 2019 (January 1 to June 15), there were a total of 20 accidents worldwide, of which three resulted in jet hull losses and one turboprop hull loss. The three fatal accidents, all of them involving jet aircraft, accounted for 201 fatalities.

The largest and most memorable of these fatal accidents was the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302, which crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019, claiming the lives of all 157 people on board (149 passengers and 8 crew). This, the second, fatal crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft prompted the worldwide grounding of the jet on March 13, 2019.

Another fatal accident occurred on May 5, 2019, when a Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B operated by Aeroflot caught fire on landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO). The accident killed 41 (33 passengers and four crew) of a total of 78 people on board.

According to IATA’s data, during the first half of 2019, the all-accident rate (which accounts for substantial damage and hull loss accidents for jet aircraft and turboprops measured per one million flights) throughout the industry was 0.91, an improvement from the 1.43 recorded in 2018. Taking into account the IATA member and non-member divide, the number is even more favorable for member airlines. The all-accident rate is 0.68, while the figure for non-IATA members reaches 1.19.

“The first half of 2019 has seen the overall accident rate decrease over the full year 2018,” IATA senior vice president of safety and flight operations Gilberto López Meyer stated at the association’s annual global media days event on December 11-12, 2019. The data also shows that “there is a continued reduction in accidents when considering a rolling five-year average rate,” Meyer added.

The industry-wide all-accident rate, including IATA and non-IATA members, averaged 1.58 per million flights for the period of 2014-2018 (the height being the year 2014 with an all-accident rate of 2.09). This translates to an average of 8.2 fatal accidents and approximately 303 fatalities per year in the aforementioned five-year period.

When looking at a regional spectrum, the results for the first half of 2019 compared with the full-year 2018 show that most regions worldwide – Europe and the CIS, MENA (Middle East and North Africa), North Asia and Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean – experienced a decline in their accident rates. The exception being Sub-Saharan Africa and North America, which saw increases to 4.45 accidents per million flights from 3.78 and to 1.11 accidents from 0.96, respectively.

Looking at the second half of 2019 (June 16 to December 2), there were another three fatal accidents that together accounted for 26 fatalities among passengers and crew. The latest of these accidents involved a Dornier 228-200 operated Busy Bee Congo, which crashed shortly after takeoff from Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on November 24, 2019. The crash killed all 19 on board (17 passengers and two crew), with 10 fatalities on the ground.

Prior to this accident, on October 4, 2019, a Ukraine Air Alliance Antonov An-12BK cargo plane crash-landed near Lviv International Airport (LWO), Ukraine, after running out of fuel, killing five crew members out of eight people on board. Another Anotonov aircraft, An-24RV operated by Angara Airlines crashed into a building after skidding on the runway of Nizhneangarsk Airport, Russia, on June 27, 2019, resulting in the deaths of two crew members out of a total of 46 people (43 passengers and three crew) on board the aircraft.  

Overall, the total number of fatalities for this year through December 2, 2019, stands at 227 (plus 10 fatalities on the ground), the result of six fatal accidents. This is compared to the full year of 2018, which saw 62 accidents, of which 11 were fatal, accounting for a total of 523 deaths. With these figures, the year 2018 stands out as a truly grim one for the commercial airline industry. Particularly when compared to 2017, which was an exceptionally safe year, as experts have noted, with six fatal accidents and only 19 fatalities.

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2017 was one of the safest years for commercial aviation, with only six fatal accidents and 19 victims. But in the first five months of 2018, the statistics already include five incidents of this type and 300 people who have lost their lives. Despite that, IATA claims air safety is increasing.