2009 Was a Very Safe Year for Air Travel


I don’t like to dwell on these end-of-year facts and figures too often, but sometimes I think it’s worth pausing to take a look. For example, let’s take a look at airline safety in 2009. It was actually a very safe year. There were 30 fatal “airliner” accidents that ended with 758 people being killed (1 on the ground). That sounds like a lot, right? We’ll break it down further after this slideshow from Aviation Safety Network, which highlights the accidents of the year.

So, of those 30 accidents (which may seem like a huge number), only 11 involved passenger flights. And of those, many were in the usual places you would expect – the ones without a strong safety leadership culture. There was one in Rwanda, one in Papua New Guinea, and one in Indonesia. I believe having at least one accident is required in Indonesia every year. There was an old TU-154 that crashed in Iran and a little Embraer 110 that went down in the Amazon. There was also that Yemenia A310 that crashed in the Indian Ocean off Africa.

Some accidents involved runway overruns and were mostly survivable. The Turkish 737 that landed hard in Amsterdam is one example, as was the Bangkok Airways ATR-72 and the Mashad IL-62. But that brings us to the big two.

The biggest, of course, was the Air France flight that plunged into the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. We still don’t know what caused that one, and we may very well never know.

The other? The Colgan Air (Continental Connection) Dash-8 that went down in Buffalo. That, of course, was caused by a combination of pilot error, fatigue, and bad weather.

So when it comes right down to it, 2009 was a very safe year. You were much safer flying than, well, eating airline food, especially if it was prepared by LSG SkyChefs in Denver. (That’s a whole different, disgusting story.)

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

14 comments on “2009 Was a Very Safe Year for Air Travel

  1. So, shouldn’t any deaths caused by LSG SkyChefs be counted as an airline accident as well?

    Since technically an accident is any flight that anyone dies on. I’m pretty sure they have to file accident reports for an on board heart attack, even though the plane was doing just fine.

  2. Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    So, shouldn’t any deaths caused by LSG SkyChefs be counted as an airline accident as well?

    Yeah, definitely, but I don’t think anyone died. But they wouldn’t report people getting sick. Just hope you didn’t have the fish.

  3. CF wrote:

    Yeah, definitely, but I don’t think anyone died. But they wouldn’t report people getting sick. Just hope you didn’t have the fish.

    Ah, yes – I had the lasagna.

  4. So less then 800 people died in airplane accidents, but those few numbers compared to the millions who fly on the thousands of flights each year still grab headlines and the attention of the public. But in this country alone over 40,000 people die in car accidents and this barely gets noticed or cared about.

    Now look at the cost to keep planes safe which includes security screening of people who get on those flights, is it worth it? Yes you need to maintain an airplane just like you maintain your car to keep it running and secure you investment of the cost of buying the airplane and car. But is the cost and time of security screening worth the expense and time of playing the odds of someone doing something on the plane. That was a story I read within the last week, was it now becoming counterproductive in the cost and time of security screening compared to the number of flights and people who travel safely every day.

    The odds say money and time should be spent on training and maintinance and not going overboard on security screening to keep from having more accidents.

  5. CF wrote:
    Yeah, definitely, but I don’t think anyone died. But they wouldn’t report people getting sick. Just hope you didn’t have the fish.

    Oops, I had the fish, which is sad, because I watched that drama multiple times as a kid.

    At least I’m having coffee as I like it, black, like my men.

  6. I may be off, but looking at airline timetables suggests that there were very roughly 26 million civil aviation flights worldwide last year. 758 fatalities is pretty darn good. Seems being in the air is safer than being on the ground!

  7. I recall getting off of a UA PS flight from JFK to SFO a few years back, and the pilot said something like: Welcome to San Francisco. The local time is 3 pm. And be careful on the roads out there because the safest part of your journey just ended.

  8. I think that Turkish Air flight which crashed at Schiphol was a bit more than a ‘hard landing’… I thought it stalled on final and fortunately did so above a field and so most of the passengers were able to survive… although many were not so fortunate.

  9. That LSGSkyshefs part was disturbing… And we all ways say airplane food is bad. Thank God I don’t like fish ;).

  10. The LSG story made the morning “news” here in the Bay Area. Accompanied by fairly ancient stock footage of Delta aircraft.

  11. Another interesting comparison (well, here in the UK at least) is that between rail travel and road travel – and deaths caused therein. The amount of investment in rail safety, versus the amount of deaths caused on rail, is disproportionate to the amount of investment in road safety versus the amount of deaths caused on the road. Imagine if automatic signalling systems were rolled out across the car manufacturing industry (cars automatically stopping at red lights, slowing to pre-arranged speed limits, etc) – there’d be an outcry about “infringement of human rights”!

  12. Even more amazing is the how the ratio of yearly fatalities has gone down (30) from the highs of the mid 60’s and through the 70’s, even if we were still doing the same number of flights per year it is a good number, however we are now doing on average 750 million passengers a year (USA alone) and 2009 was a bad year all considered, it is here that you have to applaud a system of checks and balances that riddles out faults and incompetence, if it breaks then why and how and make it better, I wish my car was like that, and even better some of the drivers in them.

  13. Let’s see how safe 2011 is going to be. Of course will there be accidents, but i hope not many. Going to South America in a few months so i hope i will have a safe flight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier