What airlines have the best safety records?
Which are the worst?

Todd Curtis at airsafe.com has lists of worst, most recent, by airlines and by airliner type. You should be able to find a lot more by the links at his website.  Terry Denham has published a book called World directory of Airliner Crashes. It lists accidents by date, airline and by type.

As to risk statistics, it is very easy to be misled. Many authors have made unwarranted conclusions from statistics. To be listed as an "accident," the NTSB only requires passenger injury or significant damage to the plane. Thus, one airline shows up as the same risk rate (per 100,000 departures) as another if they both had the same amount of "accidents" per departures, even though one flew into a mountain, killing everyone and the other flew into turbulence that broke the leg of an unbelted passenger. Again, one airline can have an accident (but thru sheer luck, no fatalities), that reveals its procedures and lack of adequate training to be just as dangerous as another that had fatalities.

One of the books, reviewed by Ken Madden, on AirlineSafety.com, discusses the subject of relative risk. Some airlines that have never had a fatal accident, also have far less exposure to risk than others do. Commuter airlines used to have a significantly greater accident rate than the major airlines in the U.S., but they are now at about the same level of risk, especially if you remove bush pilot type of accidents in Alaska, from the data base. The most dangerous airlines are found in China, Russia and Africa. And, I would never ride on Korean Airlines or Garruda. Both have had fatal crashes in recent years.

Excluding the worst foreign airlines, risk has more to do with the type of weather you’re flying in and the type of airports. What kind of runways and approach and departure instrumentation do they have? In instrument conditions, non-precision approaches (like the one flown by Korean Air at Guam) are approximately 4 times as risky as a precision approach. Flying in heavy snow or thunderstorm conditions adds risk. Flying in non-radar environments (like American Airlines at Cali, Colombia) adds significant risk. To counter those risks, the airlines have to train their pilots to observe very specific guidelines and procedures that, if followed, will not allow the flight to get into a dangerous situation. It only takes one arrogant or incompetent pilot, who disregards that kind of training, to place you at great risk. That is why CRM/CLR training is a must. Most U.S. domestic airlines now have that type of training. Many foreign airlines do not, and their accident rates show it. [see the editorial CRM: THE MISSING LINK on AirlineSafety.Com]

March, 1998

Robert J. Boser
Editor-in-Chief
AirlineSafety.Com

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