The World’s Safest Airlines

AirlineRatings.com just released its ranking of the world’s safest airlines and budget carriers. We look at the list, and review a year of fewer—but troubling—accidents, from the recent AirAsia crash to the mystery of Malaysia Flight 370.

Air travel is getting safer every year, despite a spate of major air disasters in 2014. That, in sum, is the message from aviation safety experts and organizations that are issuing their usual New Year’s scorecards—which show that while a trio of horrific accidents accounted for three-quarters of all fatalities aboard commercial flights last year, the total number of crashes was down as a percentage of total flight operations worldwide.

But 2013 was the safest year on record for commercial air travel, and so last year’s record is troubling, especially since the string of accidents that drew the most attention—Malaysia Airlines 370, Malaysia Airlines 17, and AirAsia Flight 8501—occurred at cruising altitude, commonly considered the safest part of any flight. At that altitude, a disaster isn’t likely to be survivable; in contrast, some of the most serious accidents of 2013 occurred on the ground, such as the Asiana crash at San Francisco Airport, resulting in few fatalities.

Different groups use different methods to measure safety, of course. Of the seven major fatal airline crashes listed on AirSafe.com in its year-end tally, a total of four were on airlines based in Asia—including the crash in July of TransAsia Flight 222 in Taiwan, with an estimated 48 fatalities among the 58 people aboard. In that case, severe weather was said to be the cause. Still, AirSafe described 2014’s record as “on the low end for the number of annual fatal events.”

Many experts cautioned that the two Malaysia Airlines accidents that drew the most attention were freak events; in fact, the disappearance of MH370 is as much of a mystery today as it was ten months ago.

That flight and the downing of MH17 “can be chalked up to tough luck,” said Bruce McIndoe, president of iJet, an intelligence and travel risk management company. Nonetheless, he said his firm has been watching the swift rise of low-cost carriers in Southeast Asia for signs of strain on the system. “An explosion in demand could make it incredibly difficult to meet our standards” that are set by global organizations such as the International Air Transport Association, he noted.

However, he said that travelers should keep things in context. “Overall, you have a one in 12 million chance of dying in a commercial airliner worldwide, while your chance of dying in a lightning strike is one in four million,” he said.

Okay, so flying is incredibly safe, but what’s the safest airline? Based on accident records, operational history, and international safety audits, AirlineRatings.com said Qantas leads the pack; the Aussie flag carrier is famous for its fatality-free history as a jet airline. Rounding out the rest of the top 10, in alphabetical order:

Air New Zealand
British Airways
Cathay Pacific Airways
Emirates
Etihad Airways
EVA Air
Finnair
Lufthansa
Singapore Airlines

AirlineRatings.com editors also named the ten safest low-cost airlines. In alphabetical order:

Aer Lingus
Alaska Airlines
Icelandair
JetBlue
Jetstar (subsidiary of Quantas)
Kulula (South Africa)
Monarch Airlines (UK)
Thomas Cook (UK)
TUI Fly (Germany)
WestJet (Canada)

January 08, 2015

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