Despite the heartache, air transport still safer

The devastating Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737 Max- 8 crash that claimed all the 157 lives on board on its way to Nairobi from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa on Sunday may have sparked off the debate on air safety once again.

As a result, aviation authorities of different governments have resorted to grounding their Max8 fleets. The European Union and India have banned the Boeing 737 Max from flying over their airspace to ensure passenger safety.

They join a long list of countries in suspending the plane, including the UK. It was the second fatal accident involving the 737 Max 8 model in less than five months.

India's Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that it would ground the Boeing 737-Max planes "immediately".

"These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations."

It following a similar decision by the EU Aviation Safety Agency which said it is suspending the aircraft "as a precautionary measure".

EU Aviation Safety Agency said: "The accident investigation is currently ongoing, and it is too early to draw any conclusions as to the cause of the accident." 

In the aftermath of the accident, Ethiopia, Singapore, China, France, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia have all temporarily suspended the 737 Max.

Despite these immediate measures by the various aviation authorities, air travel remains one of the safest modes of transportation, at least according to recent data.

A report by Dutch aviation firm To70 and the Aviation Safety Network shows that although the number of people killed in plane crashes jumped sharply in 2018, fatalities remained rare.

According to data contained the joint report released in January, there were more than 500 deaths stemming from passenger airline crashes in 2018, according to Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 and the Aviation Safety Network, but both groups however emphasise that fatal crashes remain rare. But when they do occur, the sheer magnitude of the toll shocks.

There were 13 deaths in 2017 in two fatal crashes worldwide, but both were on regional turboprop aircraft.

To70 estimated that the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights in 2018 stood at 0.36 per million flights, or one fatal accident for every 3 million flights.

That is up from 2017’s 0.06 per million flight rate and above the most recent five-year average of 0.24 per million flights.

Over the last two decades, aviation deaths around the world have been falling. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network says.

Despite the increase, 2018 was still the third safest year ever in terms of the number of fatal accidents and the ninth safest measured by deaths, the Aviation Safety Network said.

On 29 October, a Lion Air-operated Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed soon after take-off from Jakarta killing 189 people.

In May, a Cubana flight of a Boeing 737-201 crashed just outside Havana airport. 112 people were reported dead. In March of last year, 51 of 71 passengers died after a US-Bangla Airlines plane crashed on landing at Nepal’s international airport.

In February, a plane operated by Saratov Airlines crashed in Russia after taking off, killing all 71 people aboard, while the same month an Aseman Airlines flight crashed into a mountain in Iran, killing 66 people on board.

Locally, data from the Ministry of  Transport shows that in 2018, Kenya recorded ten deaths from airplane accidents last year, with the FlySax plane that crashed in the Aberdares on its way to Nairobi from Kitale.

In Comparison, the same year recorded close to 2500 deaths from road accidents a statistics that dwarfs the number of aircraft accidents. It should however be noted that domestically, a lot more people travel by road than by air.

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Boeing 737-MaxEthiopian Airline Boeing 737 Max- 8 crashEU Aviation Safety Agency