Revealed: The safest and deadliest years in aviation history, and how 2016 rates
2016 has been one of the safest years in aviation history, despite recent high-profile crashes, says Oliver Smith.
The recent crashes of LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 near the Colombian city of Medellín, and a Russian military jet soon after departure from Sochi, will have done little to allay the fears of nervous fliers.
But, though it will come as no consolation to the friends and families of those who perished, 2016 has been one of the safest years in aviation history.
There has been a relatively small number of air accidents this year - a testament to the stringent safety standards now in place around the world.
Among 2016’s other high-profile tragedies was EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, which disappeared in the Mediterranean in May, killing all 66 on board, and Flydubai Flight 981, which crashed after an aborted landing in Russia with the loss of 62 lives.
According to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), which keeps a database of all air travel incidents, 2016 was the second safest year on record.
There were 19 fatal accidents this year, resulting in 325 deaths - down from 560 in 2015. Given that this year will see around 3.5 billion air passengers flown, that’s just one death per 10,769,230 travellers. Two of these 19 accidents were on flights operated by airlines on the EU “black list”.
Only one year saw fewer deaths - 2013, with 265. But with 3.048 billion boarding a plane that year, according to the World Bank’s data, this amounts to a very similar number of deaths per passenger: one per 11,501,886.
Safest years in aviation history | Deaths per total number of passengers flown
- 2013 - one per 11,501,886
- 2016 - one per 10,769,230
- 2015 - one per 6,144,642
- 2012 - one per 6,079,831
- 2011 - one per 5,318,702
- 2008 - one per 3,755,102
- 2004 - one per 3,478,821
- 2014 - one per 3,253,791
- 2009 - one per 2,960,526
- 2007 - one per 2,803,299
When one discounts hijackings and sabotage, 2015 was actually the safest year on record. The crashes of a Germanwings A320 in March 2015, deliberately caused by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, and a Metrojet A321 in October, due to a suspected bomb, accounted for the majority of last year's fatalities.
Safest years in aviation history | Total deaths
- 2013 - 29 fatal crashes; 265 deaths
- 2016 - 19 fatal crashes; 325 deaths
- 2012 - 24 fatal crashes; 476 deaths
- 2011 - 36 fatal crashes; 524 deaths
- 2004 - 36 fatal crashes; 543 deaths
- 2015 - 16 fatal crashes; 560 deaths
- 2008 - 33 fatal crashes; 588 deaths
- 1984 - 39 fatal crashes; 676 deaths
- 2003 - 33 fatal crashes; 703 deaths
- 1999 - 48 fatal crashes; 706 deaths
2015 also saw the fewest number of fatal crashes involving passenger aircraft - just seven. There has been 11 so far in 2016. The general trend, however - that air travel has never been safer - is easy to see.
“Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline... thanks to the continuing efforts of international aviation organisations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry,” said ASN President Harro Ranter.
But what of the deadliest year in aviation history?
For that, one must go back to 1972, which saw a remarkable 2,370 deaths and 72 fatal accidents. There were 11 crashes that saw at least 100 perish, including four Aeroflot flights, and others involving Iberia, Sterling Airways, Alitalia, British European Airways, Interflug, Spantax and Eastern Air Lines.
10 deadliest years in aviation history
- 1972: 72 accidents (2,373 casualties)
- 1973: 69 accidents (2,028 casualties)
- 1985: 42 accidents (2,010 casualties)
- 1974: 68 accidents (1,994 casualties)
- 1996: 57 accidents (1,844 casualties)
- 1979: 77 accidents (1,776 casualties)
- 1962: 70 accidents (1,683 casualties)
- 1969: 71 accidents (1,676 casualties)
- 1977: 61 accidents (1,652 casualties)
- 1976: 66 accidents (1,627 casualties)
Fearful fliers should be grateful the Seventies are over.
The following year, 1973, was the second deadliest on record, with 69 fatal crashes and 2,028 deaths. The carriers involved in the biggest disasters that year included Royal Jordanian, Libya Arab Airlines, Invicta International Airlines, Varig and Pan Am. And, of course, Aeroflot, which had a staggering 17 crashes that year.
And 1974 was the fourth deadliest year, with 1,989 fatalities from 68 crashes (eight involving Aeroflot). It should be noted that safety standards have improved drastically at the Russian airline since then - it hasn't been involved in a fatal accident since 1996.
During every year in the Seventies, there were more than 1,000 deaths, making it comfortably the deadliest decade on record (16,766 - more than twice as many as during the 2000s).