This year’s aviation disasters contradict the industry’s long-term improvement in safety with currently fewer than two passenger deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights, according to a new report by aviation insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE (AGCS). By comparison during an early decade of the jet age (1962-1971) there were 133 passenger deaths out of every 100 million passengers.
However, the aviation industry’s safety management record will be tested further in future by a number of potential new risk scenarios. These include the increasing likelihood of cyber attacks, greater reliance on automation and the anticipated growth of drones in commercial use according to AGCS’s “Global Aviation Safety Study”. The report is published in association with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and charts the improvement in the safety record of the aviation industry from the beginning of the jet age in 1952.
The study shows that over the past 60 years skies have become much safer. Today, it is estimated there is more chance of being killed by lightning (1 in 10.5 million) than dying in a plane crash in the US and Europe (1 in 29 million). This is despite growth in the sector which will see an estimated 3.3 billion passengers fly this year compared with just 106 million in 1960.
“Air safety has improved greatly, underpinned by technology, navigation systems, engine improvement and design implementations such as fail-safe design criteria and fly-by-wire control”, says Joe Strickland, Global Head of Aviation, Americas at AGCS. “At the same time the standard of training of crew and safety management have become notably higher. Innovations such as digital message communications systems – enabling pilots and controllers to “text” each other – are enhancing the aviation safety environment further.
Top causes of loss
Despite the much-improved safety record, the cost of aviation claims is rising, driven by the widespread use of new materials in plane design, as well as ever-more demanding regulation and growth of liability-based litigation. “Today there are fewer fatalities or total hull losses compared with the past, but new types of risk and losses, such as composite repairs, ground equipment damage or the risk of grounding, are additional drivers of exposure”, explains Henning Haagen, Global Head of Aviation EMEA and Asia Pacific at AGCS. Increasing fleet values and a rise in passenger numbers is expected to push the value of risk exposure through the $1 trillion barrier by 2020, possibly even earlier.
In analysis of large insurance claims in excess of $1.36 million (€1 million), unsurprisingly, plane crashes are the major cause of loss in terms of number of insurance claims generated (23%) and subsequent value (37%). However, almost as many aviation claims by number (18%) relate to ground handling claims and 16% to mechanical failure.
Regional gaps in safety
While North America and Europe have the best commercial safety records, Africa is the poorest performer. In 2012 88% of global aviation fatalities occurred in Africa (45%) and Asia (43%). Africa currently uses the highest percentage of second generation aircraft – over 50% of the total fleet analyzed. Upgrading the airline fleet to current generation aircraft is one of the safety initiatives which have lowered the global accident rate. In some parts of Africa, safety and training standards are comparable to those of 50 years ago in the US or Europe.