The airlines – including American Airlines, American Eagle, Iran Air, Thai Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines – with the worst safety records.
Safety records amongst Australian airlines are remarkably good. Indeed, Qantas doesn’t shy away from boasting that it’s the world’s oldest airline to have never had a fatal accident. But it’s not the same story worldwide – and some airlines look considerably iffier when you start looking at the crash data…
Worst overall record
Deciding which airline has the worst overall safety record depends entirely on how you define ‘worst’. Arguably the most illuminating measurement to use is Adjusted Fatal Event calculation. This adjusts the number of air crashes depending on the percentage of passengers that died in them. To give an example, say an airline has two accidents. In the first, all passengers die, while in the second only half die. The Adjusted Fatal Event figure for this airline would be 1.5.
Using this measurement (and, frankly, pretty much any other measurement) for airlines that there is reliable crash data for, the worst safety record belongs to Cubana. According to the figures provided by OAGback Aviation Solutions for flights taken between 1985 and 2009, there were eight fatal accidents on 320,000 Cubana flights in that period. That’s two more accidents than any other airline, and with far fewer flights taken than almost all other major airlines.
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And the Cuban national airline’s Adjusted Fatal Event score? A deeply unimpressive 5.23.
Other airlines with bad Adjusted Fatal Event scores include Pakistan Airlines (4.18), American Airlines (4.04), American Eagle (3.72) and Iran Air (3.42). A full list can be found at Planecrashinfo.com (http://www.planecrashinfo.com/rates.htm).
Worst accident rate
Of course, the Adjusted Fatal Event figure doesn’t give the complete picture. It doesn’t really take into account the number of flights operated. It’s hardly fair to compare Cubana’s 320,000 flights to American Airlines’ 20.2 million. Using the same source, when you compare the records of airlines to the average fatal accident rate, it’s a different story for some. As an example, American Airlines’s accident rate is 234% better than average. For comparison, Qantas (no fatal accidents in 2.63 million flights) does 82% better than average and the leading airline by this measurement is Southwest Airlines in the US (no fatal accidents in 17.87 million flights and 568% better than average).
Predictably enough, Cubana comes off when you compare its accident rate like this. The Cuban airline’s record is 513% worse than average. Other shockers are had by Iran Air (312% worse), Pakistan Airlines (373% worse) and Indian Airlines (234% worse).
Most deadly plane crashes of all time
The most deadly plane crashes of all time are considered to be the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. The 2907 fatalities listed by Planecrashinfo.com include those who died on the ground, as well as the passengers of the American Airlines and United Airlines planes.
September 11th does skew the stats for American and United somewhat, as the deaths can hardly be attributed to human or mechanical error on behalf of the airline.
Otherwise, the worst air disaster of all time took place at Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands. 578 passengers died when a KLM flight collided with a Pan Am plane on the runway in 1977.
The worst accident involving a single plane was when Japan Airlines flight 123 from Tokyo to Osaka smashed into the side of Mt Ogura in 1985, killing 520.
As for recent years, the worst accident of the last decade involving a passenger plane (excluding September 11th) also took place in 2001. American Airlines flight 587 crashed into a residential suburb of Queens, New York. 251 passengers, nine crew members and five people on the ground died – and this time, pilot error was the official cause.
Most regular major crashes
American Airlines has the dubious honour of being in two of the worst ten and three of the worst 20 air crashes of all time – although that does include September 11th as well as the Queens crash and a 1979 disaster that saw 273 die in.
Saudi Arabian Airlines also has the dubious honour of featuring in two of the top ten most deadly air disasters – a fire on the plane at Riyadh airport in 1980 killed all 301 aboard, whilst 349 died during a mid-air collision with a Kazakhstan Airlines flight on the way to New Delhi in 1996.
Other airlines that don’t come out smelling of roses areAirlines (three of the top 50 most fatal accidents), and Russia’s Aeroflot (seven of the top 100).
Worst record of airlines flying to
Of course, most Australians are unlikely to encounter the likes of Cubana and Pakistan Airlines, but there are some airlines with patchy history that do fly to Australia. American Airlines is one, albeit with mitigating circumstances.
The carrier that really raises eyebrows is China Airlines. The Taiwan-based carrier managed six fatal crashes in 910,000 flights between 1985 and 2009. That’s 469% worse than the average accident rate, with an Adjusted Fatal Event score of 4.98.
Thai Airways doesn’t have a gleaming safety record either – four fatal crashes in 1.98 million flights, an Adjusted Fatal Event figure of 3.69 and an accident rate that is 306% worse than average.
This article was written for Ninemsn in August 2010.
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