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A Terrible Way to Rank Airline Safety

Have you seen the supposed “safety rankings” for 2012 from the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC)? I know some of you have, because I’ve received emails about it, and it is a truly awful way to measure airline safety. You know I hate to give press to these types of things, but considering that I received emails on the subject, I thought it better to pick this apart instead of letting it stand alone, misleading people.

This safety ranking looked at 60 airlines and ranked them on a safety index. The safest airline in here was Finnair with a .005 ranking. The least safe was China Airlines with a 1.171 ranking. How do they come up with these numbers? Let’s just go straight to the horse’s mouth.

Worst JACDEC Rankings

Based on our annual safety calculations which include all hull loss accidents and serious incidents in the last 30 years of operations in relation to the revenue passsenger kilometers (RPK) performed in the same time. We also took into account the international safety benchmarks such as the IOSA Audit and the USOAP country factor. Furthermore we included a time weightening factor which increases the effect of recent accidents and weakening the impact of accidents in the past. All calculation data ends after a period of 30 years. Fatalities are only counted when they were on board a passenger flight. No ground casualties or 3rd party fatalities in other aircraft. All accidents that fulfills the above mentioned criteria were involved in our calculation, regardless of causes or responsibilities.

That’s right. The “annual” safety ranking looks at accidents in the last 30 YEARS. This is a shockingly long time, and it makes no sense at all if you’re considering safety today. It also doesn’t take into account whether an accident was even the fault of the airline. Oh boy.

Let’s look at China Airlines, the worst airline on the report. There is no question that China Airlines was an unsafe airline back in the 1990s and early 2000s. It had multiple accidents that killed hundreds of people. The accidents were caused by everything from poor maintenance to crew mistakes and lack of coordination. The airline was a mess.

But since that last major accident in May 2002, over 10 years ago, China Airlines made big changes. The result is that there has been only one incident in the last decade. That one was partially due to a maintenance issue but also due to a manufacturing problem. Nobody died.

Now, this hardly makes China Airlines the safest airline around, but it also hardly seems fair to determine its safety currently from its 30 year history. The same goes for Korean Air.

Korean ranks as the fifth most dangerous airline in this year’s survey. Korean also was an airline I would have avoided in the late 1990s as a series of accidents plagued the airline. But Korean was a founding member of SkyTeam in 2000 and it has worked closely with several airlines to make sure its maintenance and crew practices were up to speed. The last incident in the database was in 2000, more than 13 years ago.

I think I’ve made my point, but I’ll use one more a little closer to home. How about SkyWest Airlines? You probably know SkyWest as a regional provider for just about every airline in the US. (Seriously – Alaska, American, Delta, United, and US Airways all use SkyWest.) When is the last time you heard about a safety incident with SkyWest?

Well, the last one that JACDEC counts was waaaaaay back in 1991 when a US Airways 737 landed on top of a SkyWest Metro. People often remember that accident, but it wasn’t SkyWest’s fault. Air traffic control made a fatal mistake. In fact, there is only one incident in the database that appears to be SkyWest’s fault and that resulted in no casualties.

Considering that SkyWest operates more than 1,500 flights a day, you would think that the airline would rank pretty well with such a strong record. But it doesn’t. It’s the tenth least safe airline on the list. That’s worse than airlines like Aeroflot and Alitalia. Though those airlines don’t concern me today either, it’s hard to believe that SkyWest’s record in the last 30 years is worse than Aeroflot’s.

Of course, this survey doesn’t even look at some of the more dangerous airlines out there – those who fly around hot spots in Africa or Indonesia. So if you’ve come across this study, I’d just disregard it.

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