Report: Despite disasters, air travel safer than ever

Although Malaysia Airlines flights 370 and 17 and Air Asia’s 8501 dominated the headlines last year, a just-released 2014 safety report shows the global airline accident rate at its lowest ever.

The rate, which is measured in commercial hull losses per million flights, was 0.23 in 2014, according to the International Air Transport Association report.

That’s less than one crash for every 4.4 million flights.

The year before, that number was 0.41, and the five-year average 0.58.

Put simply, there were 12 fatal accidents in 2014, 16 the year before and an average of 19 over the previous five years.

But when you look at fatalities, the number of people killed in plane crashes jumped to 641 in 2014, up from 210 in 2013.

MH17 was not included in the report because it was shot down. The loss of that aircraft was treated in the same way as the planes that crashed in the September 11 attacks.

“Every accident is one too many, and safety is always aviation’s top priority,” International Air Transport Association CEO Tony Tyler said.

“2014 was a year of contrasts because there were several very high-profile tragedies, yet the overall numbers show a continuing trend of improvement in safety,” he said.

One improvement — live satellite tracking of all commercial aircraft — could be a reality within three years, Tyler said.

But, there’s a catch: It’ll work only if planes have their signal-broadcasting transponders turned on.

In the case of still-missing flight MH370, the transponder was turned off.

Despite that, Tyler said, the new technology represents a significant jump for the aviation industry.

“There’ll be coverage anywhere in the world, coverage over the poles and of the widest oceans,” he said. “We’ll be able to tell at any one time where the airplane is. This will be, I believe, a huge step forward.”

The aviation industry will be watching closely to see whether the technology lives up to the claims.

Tyler says his association is in talks with several satellite providers, and the first low-orbiting satellites will be launched this year.

“It’s very important to see what’s out there, how well it works, and to make sure that we choose the right technology,” said Tyler. “We’re looking for performance-based solutions. We don’t want the regulators to be prescriptive in actually how we do the tracking. We believe they should be prescriptive in what the outcome should be.”

Tyler remains confident that MH370 will be found. He said it’s important that happens for the industry.

“It’s a very safe industry, but a mystery like this needs to be solved so that people can feel confident that they can safely travel by air.”

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