There were more passengers killed in airline disasters in 2018 than in each of the previous three years combined, but far from being a reason to panic, the fact that a handful of crashes can so dramatically skew airline safety statistics is a testament to the remarkable safety of commercial air travel.
Airline fatalities in 2018 jumped by a staggering 900 percent in 2018. While comparing the 555 passengers who were killed in air disasters between January and December of this past year versus the 59 commercial flyers who were killed as a result of accidents in all of 2017, makes for a stark contrast, the numbers are in some ways indicative of an overall trend in improvements in airline safety.
The numbers provided by the Flight Safety Foundation do not include accidents involving corporate jets or military transports and only consider air accidents involving fourteen or more passengers. While the number of passengers killed represents a steep increase from the airline fatalities in 2017, as well as the 258 passengers who lost their lives in 2016 and the 186 who died in air disasters in 2015, the number is less than the 692 fatalities recorded in 2014.
It is the remarkable safety record of commercial air travel that leads to a situation in which a relatively small number of deaths can create what appears to be a statistically significant change in the aviation safety record. The increased capacity of modern passenger planes also creates a potential for some statistical volatility. Although there were far fewer passenger fatalities in 2016 than in 2018, there were actually more commercial air crashes in 2016 than in 2018.
“2018 was an average year for air safety based on the number of accidents for cargo and passenger operators,” aviation safety consultant and retired airline captain John Cox explained in a recent USA Today op-ed. “Let’s put it into a little broader perspective. Airlines flew nearly 4.5 billion passengers on nearly 45 million flights worldwide. Those are both record-breaking figures. But sadly, there were 15 accidents worldwide according to the Aviation Safety Network.”
Air travel remains without a doubt the safest way to travel — statistically, we are all much, much more likely to be killed on the drive to the airport than on the flight to our final destination.