Air Safety: The Bad News and The Good News

2014 was the worst year for air accident fatalities in a decade.  In addition to being terrible tragedies, many of these accidents had enough unusual twists, such as the disappearance of MH 370 and the destruction of MH 17 by a surface-to-air missile, that they became weeks-long media spectacles.  Did this have a negative impact on the global airline industry?  Apparently not.

According to the International Air Transport Association, 2014 was a record year for global air travel.  A record 3.3 billion passengers were carried over the course of the year with passenger demand growing by ten percent.  Every continent saw increases, with Asia and the Middle East seeing the most robust growth.  While African airlines did not have a stellar year, they at least saw some low growth at .9 percent.

There a clearly several reasons why the accidents of 2014 have not had an impact on the public’s willingness to fly.  First, the same unique circumstances surrounding MH 370 and MH 17 that made them such great media circuses also make them less worrisome to the average traveler.  People look at them as “one-off” events that are unlikely to happen again.  Second, since most of them have involved Asian airlines, travelers in the rest of the world are more likely to consider these accidents anomalies, unique to those airlines, that won’t affect them.  Third, although last year was not a very good year, many people still remember the “bad old days” of the mid 1960s to the late 1990s, when fatalities were often two to three times what they were in 2014.  Last year does not seem so bad by comparison.

Finally, and most importantly, if you look just at the number of accidents, 2014 was actually one of the safest years on record.  The number of commercial aviation accidents worldwide has been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, and last year fit squarely into this continuing downward trend.  The traveling public is aware of this overall trend, and for now, is apparently willing to take last year in stride.

While 2015 is not off to a great start, hopefully the rest of the year will be a safe one, and air commerce will be able to continue to drive growth in the global economy.

(Originally posted February 8, 2015)

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