Global Aerospace Editorial Team, March 21, 2024
Aviation Safety

Aviation around the world is experiencing a period of unprecedented safety. In the US alone, there has not been a mass-casualty plane crash since 2009. That statistic is even more impressive given that there have been many incidents in the last 15 years that could have resulted in significant injuries and loss of life.

In the first week of January 2024, two potentially catastrophic events occurred. On January 2, an airliner and a twin turboprop collided on a runway at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Tragically, five of the six crew on the turboprop died in the accident.

Fortunately, all 367 passengers and 12 crew on the airliner survived, thanks to several factors. One was the rigorous crew training that enabled a rapid, well-coordinated aircraft evacuation. Passengers refrained from panicking, followed instructions to leave their belongings behind and exited in an orderly fashion. Industry insiders are suggesting the aircraft’s advanced design and materials, which allowed more time for evacuation, also helped prevent a catastrophe.

Three days later, on January 5, an airliner lost a “door plug” panel in flight and depressurized. All 171 passengers and six crew members survived, and the plane safely returned to the airport and landed within 20 minutes. It is fortunate that no one was seated near the door plug panel, of course, but the crew’s professionalism in the face of significant mechanical failure helped prevent a worse outcome.

From Unruly Passengers to Alarming Near Misses

Aviation has also recently experienced a spike in incidents of dangerous passenger behavior. These unruly flyers have been subdued before they could complete acts like opening doors on airborne aircraft and risking the lives of everyone onboard. Rapid and appropriate responses from well-trained flight crews—often with assistance from other passengers—have been all that stood between these bad actors and potentially deadly consequences.

High profile near misses on active runways continue to pose a threat to passengers and flight crews. In many of these situations, quick thinking prevented disastrous outcomes or minimized an incident’s effects. The absence of injuries or fatalities does suggest a certain robustness in the aviation ecosystem, but aviation stakeholders must remain vigilant and focused on setting and achieving ever-higher safety standards.

Abundant Aviation Industry Stressors

Much has been written about the many challenges aviation faces today. Some of the more urgent issues include:

  • Lack of workforce across the entire aviation system. Hiring and retention struggles are affecting ATC, flight operations, manufacturing output, ground handling, aircraft movement, FBOs, MROs, international service providers, fuel vendors and other specialties.
  • Falling experience quotient. A “talent vacuum” exists due to the high rate of turnover. “Time in aircraft type” is decreasing for pilots and maintenance crews – many of whom have only been hired in the past 5 years, meaning less experienced personnel in general are now handling critical tasks.
  • Global passenger congestion. People kept home by the pandemic are seemingly looking to “make up for lost time” and at times stressing the air travel system from crowded airport terminals to ATC flow control for aircraft departures and arrivals.
  • Supply chain uncertainty. Another lesson from the pandemic is that the risk of supply chain disruptions is higher than anyone knew, and even 4 years after the start of the pandemic the strains continue to be felt.
  • Aircraft and parts costs, jet fuel and oil prices. The cost of operating aircraft continues to climb.
  • Rapidly evolving airspace restrictions. Conflicts like the wars in Ukraine, Sudan, and Israel are forcing aircraft operators to rethink and revise flight plans.

What bears consideration is how these growing issues potentially offset advances in safety practices.

Safety Challenges in Business Aviation

While airline incidents typically make front-page news, the business aviation sector also faces similar difficulties, such as complacency around safety fundamentals, lack of adherence to SMS programs, and reduced oversight on vendor and service providers.

Aviation Safety: Staying Ahead of Rising Risks

Despite the recent incidents and the increased stressors, aviation remains the safest mode of transportation. As International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh noted in the organization’s March 2023 Airline Safety Performance report:

“Accidents are rare in aviation. There were five fatal accidents among 32.2 million flights in 2022. That tells us that flying is among the safest activities in which a person can engage. But even though the risk of flying is exceptionally low, it is not risk-free. Careful analysis of the trends that are emerging even at these very high levels of safety is what will make flying even safer. This year’s report, for example, tells us that we need to make some special efforts on turboprop operations in Africa and Latin America. Safety is aviation’s highest priority, and our goal is to have every flight take off and land safely regardless of region or aircraft type.”

Are technological innovations and strategies designed to improve safety having an effect? The data supports this conclusion.

Aviation stakeholders are continually innovating in countless ways, from new products to enhanced procedures, including:

  • Improved monitoring and warning systems
  • Satellite-based communications systems supporting Air Traffic Management Systems
  • Autonomous technologies
  • Advanced materials, such as lightweight carbon composites
  • Robust crew training and positive safety culture
  • Open exchange of safety data amongst airline and business aviation operators to improve processes

Another driver of increased safety is the work of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). It focuses on operations in the U.S. but encourages government and industry partnerships worldwide and works with regional safety teams to improve safety through solutions tailored to region-specific challenges and goals. CAST coordinates with several organizations to conduct prognostic safety analyses, including acquiring, sharing and analyzing safety data from across the aviation community. This includes collaborations with entities like:

  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  • Flight Safety Foundation (FSF)
  • International Air Transport Association (IATA)
  • European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

According to the FAA website: “CAST’s work, along with new aircraft, regulations, and other activities, has virtually eliminated the traditional common causes of commercial accidents – controlled flight into terrain, weather, wind shear, and failure to complete checklists. As a result, the fatality risk for commercial aviation in the United States fell 83 percent from 1998 to 2008. CAST aims to reduce the U.S. commercial fatality risk by another 50 percent between 2010 and 2025.”

Conclusion

As the industry finally recovers from COVID and resumes its unstoppable growth, it will continue to be challenged to maintain its impressive track record of aviation safety. If ever there were an industry where “resting on one’s laurels” could result in devastating consequences, it is ours.

It is imperative that all aviation stakeholders maintain an unwavering focus on safety practices, and that companies continue to supply the industry with everything from advanced materials to innovative technologies. Together, we can ensure flying remains the safest way to travel, explore and experience the world.


Aviation safety has reached unprecedented levels globally, with no mass-casualty plane crashes in the US since 2009. Recent near misses and incidents have highlighted the importance of well-trained crew, advanced aircraft design, and quick thinking in preventing disasters. The industry is facing challenges such as workforce shortages, falling experience levels, passenger congestion, supply chain disruptions, and rising costs. Despite these stressors, aviation remains the safest mode of transportation, with constant innovations in technology, safety measures, and collaboration among aviation stakeholders. Maintaining a focus on safety practices and continuous improvement is crucial to ensuring the industry’s impressive safety record.

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