A Nonsense Listing of the World’s Allegedly Safest Airlines

Quantas jet

How do you establish which airlines are safer than which other airlines?  That is a happily difficult thing to do, because most airlines go years, even decades, between serious accidents.  Most airlines are extremely safe, but that’s not a concept that sells many articles, so tired writers desperate for a new story come up with elaborate ways of rating airlines and creating largely artificial differences between them.

One of the interesting side effects of airlines being so extraordinarily safe is that because of such a low incidence of problems, a single incident can transition an airline (or airplane) from the ‘safest’ to the ‘most dangerous’ depending on the time frames used and other factors.  This was seen in extreme form with the Concorde – a plane which was lauded as being the world’s safest plane until its one crash, whereupon it instantly became the world’s most dangerous plane.  Both statements were correct, but neither was valid or accurate.

Establishing how safe an airline is requires a lot more than adding up plane crashes and counting dead bodies.

Sometimes an airline has an accident – a real true ‘act of God’ type accident that is utterly and absolutely not its fault.  Think for example of the 787 battery problems – should the airlines who were operating the early 787s be down-rated because of that?  What about an airline that loses a plane due to a freak accident entirely not of its fault?  Or an accident clearly due to someone else’s fault – terrorist action, air traffic control mistake, or something similar?  How does one rate the airline for such things?

And then there are problems with how many ‘points’ you take off an airline for small accidents rather than big ones.  For that matter, should an airline that loses an A380 with 500 people on board be downrated as much as an airline that loses an empty regional jet being ferried between two points?  Or swap it?  Which implies worse safety – an empty A380 crashing, or a full 22 seater commuter plane?

And so on, and so on.

There are dozens more factors to consider as well.  If an airline is downgraded, how long should it stay downgraded for?  When can an airline be forgiven a past problem?

Most people perceive that Qantas is the world’s safest airline, but when pressed for why they believe that, the answer is either ‘I don’t know’, or ‘Because everyone says so’ or ‘I saw it in Rainman’.  Now I like Qantas more than most people, but I also must acknowledge that while they’ve not had a fatal crash for a blessedly long time, they have had some very close escapes in the last decade or two, and one incident in particular is widely thought should have been marked down as a total airplane write-off but the plane was salvaged and repaired purely to preserve the image of Qantas’ “perfect” safety record.

With these comments as background, now prepare yourself to enter eye-rolling territory when you read the fanciful listing of the world’s safest airlines, brought to you by the ‘experts’ at airlineratings.com.  If we are to believe them, I am totally wrong in my comments above.  It is actually very simple to rate airlines on their safety standards.  They have a seven point test :

  • Has the airline completed the IATA safety audit? If so, award two stars.
  • Is the airline on the EU blacklist? If no, award a star. If yes, no star is awarded.
  • Has the airline maintained a fatality-free safety record for the past 10 years? If yes, award a star. If no, no star is given.
  • Is the airline endorsed by the US Federal Aviation Authority? If yes, award a star.
  • Does the country of origin meet all International Civil Aviation Organisation safety parameters? If yes, award two stars.
  • Has the airline’s fleet been grounded over safety concerns?  If yes, remove a star.
  • Does the airline operate only Russian-made planes? If yes, remove a star.

Proving that these ‘experts’ have also watched Rainman, they have singled out Qantas as being the world’s safest airline, even though their rating system (ranging from -2 up to +7 stars) doesn’t permit such fine granularity, and many other airlines also got the same maximum seven stars as Qantas.  But, hey, it helps to bring people to their website, so who really cares beyond that, right?

More details here.


Reproduced by permission from The Inside Travellor.

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