Ranking Airline Safety

The thing is, safety records are so one-dimensional. You go x number of years without a crash and you’re top shelf. But screw up once, your safety record is toast. There’s no unified theory of safety, but a European agency has named Finnair the world’s safest airline.

Europe’s Jet Airline Crash Data Evaluation Center (JADEC) ranks Finnair as the world’s safest airline. The agency scrolls, cuts and pastes airline accidents from around the world, building a strobe-light database with images and reporting. It’s all there on the jpegs. It’s not a bring-popcorn kind of site.

Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific ranked second and third in safety. Air NZ lost an A320 on a test flight in 2008, but the six pilots and engineers lost didn’t register with JADEC.

And then there’s our FT thread discussing air safety.

But maybe ranking safety is a mug’s game groping down a dark trail. Some safety surveys consider “incidents” per flight, like say you briefly got into some other aircraft’s airspace. JADEC factors aircraft losses plus close calls, which they consider as ineradicable as a scar. But a barking dog doesn’t bite. Other safety surveys stay focused on the long game and more to the point consider the number of fatalities per million miles flown.

JADEC used airline fatalities and “incidents” from the past 30 years, but some of their top 10 are new to the game. Fifth-place Etihad Airways was only established 10 years ago. Qantas fell to number 13 because of a few “incidents,” but they haven’t lost an aircraft in the past 30 years.

Consumer Warning Network (CWN) considers only fatalities in their safety surveys, the “incidents” washed down like a teenager’s car. Last year they ranked Southwest Airlines the safest in the world because they were fatality free since their 1970s beginnings. But when a roof collapsed and metal fatigue showed up on Southwest’s aging aircraft, CWN questioned their highest ranking. The bad times for SWA reminding them of the good times they didn’t pay attention to.

The safety record for all the world’s airlines is one dead for every 2,000,000,000 person-miles flown, making flight one of the safest ways of getting somewhere measured by distance traveled.

And then there’s China Airlines, working-class stiffs on third-shifts and no place to go but up, in JADEC’s 60th place. Eight aircraft losses since 1983.

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