Risks to airline passengers are changing

In calendar year 2015 worldwide airline accidents killed fewer passengers than they have ever done, but crashes caused by deliberate action confirms a rising risk to travellers that has its basis in global instability.

Last year there were nine fatal airline accidents in which a total of 176 people died. All of these fatal accidents involved small, propeller-driven aircraft , most of them carrying cargo only. There were no jet accidents.

There were also two jet disasters in 2015, but they were not accidents. One was the Germanwings crash in the French Alps, deliberately caused by the copilot in a bid for his own suicide and – perhaps – notoriety. He killed himself and the other 149 people on board. The second jet disaster was the sabotage of the Russian-bound MetroJet Airbus A321, in which all 224 people on board died. Evidence points to a bomb having been placed on board the aircraft at its departure airport, Sharm el-Sheikh.

So in 2015 more than twice as many passengers and crew – 374 – were killed on airliners by deliberate action compared with the number killed in genuine accidents.

In 2014 there were two such events resulting in 510 deaths. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370’s disappearance is believed (though not yet proven) to have been the result of deliberate action by someone on board, and then there was the missile shoot-down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The indications are that the most significant future risk to airline passengers is now shifting away from accidents and toward security threats.

6 thoughts on “Risks to airline passengers are changing

  1. Dear David – as one whom, in days gone by – was referred to as – a total aviation person – I want to tell you how much I appreciate and value your opinion and insights of your www site and of course in Flight.

    Keep ’em coming …

    Best regards Reg Pycroft

    Sent from Reg Pycroft’s iPad – on the road.



  2. Dear David,

    Re Loss of Airbus A321Metrojet flight 9268 on 31 October, shortly after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh on a charter flight to St Petersburg.

    On December 14th 2015 Captain Ayman al-Muqaddam of Egypt’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Central Directorate announced that there was no indication of “unlawful interference,” with the aircraft.

    Where do we go from here?

    The investigators directly involved contradict what has been said in the UK, USA, and Moscow where it seems officials and politicians remain convinced that the aircraft was brought down by a bomb.


  3. Well Anthony, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. In effect a repeat of the Egyptair 990 -of Oct 31 1999- Egyptian denial vested interest playbook. A simple rule of thumb for regimes of which there is rule by law of the regime, rather than rule of law, is simply to never believe anything until it is “officially” denied.


  4. Hi David,

    Thank you for a very thought provoking short piece! As a follow up, may I ask you a couple of questions to develop your theme?
    Firstly, as the ‘accident rate’ is now at an extremely low level (176 fatalities in 2015, you quote), what is your view on the ‘rush’ to performance based regulation and oversight? Given that we have apparently achieved the near impossible with prescriptive based regulation, and made flying in an airliner less risky than almost any other activity we undertake as humans; should we be taking much more care before we rip up the current rule book?
    Secondly, taking the ‘security breaches’ as separate from the ‘on board deliberate acts’, is it not paradoxical that regulation is moving in the opposite direction – i.e. towards more prescriptive, comprehensive security regulation – rather than examining the benefits claimed for safety in performance based regulation? Perhaps the attitude in safety regulation is based in cost prioritised complacency, whereas in security it comes from truly seeking better outcomes?
    Thirdly, the ‘on board deliberate acts’ is provoking knee jerk reactions across the world. We have no data to judge MH370, and we still await the final report on 4U 9525 with the investigators giving us no interim recommendations. That safety record was built on careful regulation following comprehensive thought – not media driven knee-jerk reactions! Do you, in writing your excellent piece, anticipate that the regulatory reactions to these tragedies will be wholly appropriate?

    Looking forward to chatting over a beer, soon!



    • Martin, you’re right – these issues need reviewing. But since they can’t be dealt with in soundbites and I have the global airline safety review to put to bed at Flight International this week (for issue dated 19 January), forgive me if I defer replying until next week.

      The beer, however, is a good idea. I’m not far from IFALPA’s HQ, so it should be easy to arrange.


  5. Accident-Incident speaking, I thought this was initially MAS-April 1 2016, then I remembered MAS B-744 operations to Heathrow landing with 3 tonnes of fuel on the totalizer of 1999. In B-744 speak, that makes for a marginal Go Around-at best, with a probable emergency declaration and Flaps 20-25, “hope for the best”, landing with no-margin willpower.

    MAS were flying -not partying- like it was 1999 !!!

    But this is nothing compared to their VR-NADP1(Close Community), EGLL technique in general. And in particular as exhibited by the PM-PIC of B-744, 9M-MPC(My Pared Carcass) , the previous year, on April 5 1998 from EGLL’s RWY 27L to WMKK.
    That Captain was 57 chronological years. I’m glad of a few more years of maturity to reach his level of CRM and hopefully avoid it, by knowing my PM-place.

    Click to access dft_avsafety_pdf_501929.pdf

    In fairness though, their “Satay” is sublime, to which I can gastronomically attest.

    Click to access mh-productsheet.pdf

    Still, no pilot is their own statistic-QED!


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