Aircraft accidents: Has the downward trend turned? A bifurcated picture

News headlines recently seem to have been filled by aircraft crashes – from the missing Air France flight 447 in 2009 to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 over the South China Sea last spring and flight MH17 from the same airline which was shot down over Eastern Ukraine a couple of months later. Then a Germanwings (Lufthansa’s low-cost airline) A320 crashed in France en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf today.

With all these headlines one has to ask: Has the downward trend in aircraft accidents been broken? Or is it just the media misrepresenting the underlying picture by making unproportional “noise” about some unfortunate cases, (which nevertheless still are consistent with a falling trend)?

In fact the picture looks bifurcated.

Looking at the chart for the number of aircraft crashes from the Geneva-based Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archive (B3A) the downward trend still seems to be intact, with around 150 aircraft crashes per year since 2010 – only 120 in 2014 – down from closer to 200 per year in the previous 10 year period.

aircraft crashes

However, if one looks at the casualties statistics, the picture looks slightly different. From less than 1000 annual casualties from 2011-2013 the number of casualties increased to 1328 in 2014 – the highest count since 2005, (with the two MH flights contributing more than 500 deaths). So far in 2015 the casualties count sums to 245 – before the 148 passengers on board the Germanwings flight.

Air crash casualties

Looking at the chart 2014 clearly sticks out as an outlier. The question is if this deviation is within what would be reasonable to expect, and still consistent with a falling number of aircraft casualties over the long haul? Or if the positive trend really has broken, which would imply that decades of improvement in air travel safety has come to an end?

Aircraft accidents: Has the downward trend turned? A bifurcated picture