In the last days, I have seen a wave of news and headlines mentioning that 2017 was the safest year in aviation history. The source of the information is the release of 2017 accidents figures made by the Aviation Safety Network a private initiative from the Flight Safety Foundation which curates an extensive database with aviation incidents, hijackings and accidents, from 1946 to nowadays.
The release of the figures can be found here: “ASN data show 2017 was safest year in aviation history“.
The tweet with which they made the announcement is below:
Following that publication, several specialized and generalist media echoed the information. Many of them went to say that there had not been any deaths in commercial aviation in 2017, which is not accurate. A few correctly reported the figures, e.g. Jon Ostrower from CNN. Some headlines reported that there had not been any death in “commercial passenger jet flights”, which is accurate, but misses the accidents and deaths of commercial aviation based on other aircraft than jets. Most of the headlines in the media that I have see in Spanish quickly copied the message but failed to note the word “jet”, and simply stated that there had not been any death in commercial aviation (the opposite would be private or military) or commercial passenger flights (this category would exclude cargo flights but not flights on turbo propellers for instance).
If we take a look at the source of the information, we can have a quick look at the accidents:
- there were 10 accidents in commercial aviation: 5 on passenger flights and 5 on cargo flights.
- 44 occupants died as a consequence of those accidents. Moreover, 35 people died on ground as a consequence of those accidents.
- there was 1 accident that involved what would be referred to as a “jet” aircraft, a Boeing 747, but this was on a cargo service. Involving four deaths.
- there were several accidents involving commercial passenger aircraft, in this case turbo propellers, e.g. 4 Cessna 208 Caravan and Grand Caravan, or an ATR-42.
It is true that most of us rarely fly on those Cessnas, but about 2,500 have been built and they are operated by dozens of operators, including passenger commercial aviation (or FedEx, which flies over 200 of them), especially in regional aviation and inter-island flights.
ATR aircraft are also very successful in regional aviation, with over 400 ATR-42 built, and operated for example by the Air France subsidiary HOP! In this case, the ATR-42 that crashed, was operated by West Wind Aviation in Canada. After the crash investigation, Transport Canada removed the licence to the operator.
To conclude, yes, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history, but unfortunately there were 44 plus 35 fatal victims of commercial aviation.