Malaysia Airlines Had Strong Safety Record

Many Asian Carriers Have Overcome Poor Reputations in Past Decade

The Gulf of Thailand

The Gulf of Thailand

By Paul Riegler on 8 March 2014
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While aviation officials and government authorities continue to search both for a missing Malaysia Airlines jet and an explanation of what happened, the incident presents a stark contrast to the safety record that Asian carriers have achieved over the past decade.

Malaysia’s flag carrier stands out in a region where flying is considered exceptionally safe.  The airline has only had one fatal crash in the past two decades, when a Fokker 50 aircraft crashed in Tawau, Sabah in Malaysia, killing 34 people in 1995.

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing almost one day ago and has apparently crash landed into the South China Sea.  The aircraft, which departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board, was originally scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m.

While carriers in Asia have had multiple serous accidents in the last two decades of the twentieth century, Malaysia has had no further incidents until now.  One of the worst crashes in the region was the 1997 crash of a Garuda Indonesia Airbus A300, in which 234 people were killed.  A Silk Air Boeing 737-300 that crashed in Indonesia, killing all 104 on board, followed that a few months later.  SilkAir is a regional airline owned by Singapore Airlines.

Today, airlines in the region no longer ignore training, oversight, and infrastructure.  Thanks to a renewed focus in this area, the number of accidents has dropped significantly.  This doesn’t, however, mean that there aren’t exceptions.

In January of this year, U.S. regulators downgraded India’s aviation-safety ranking, a move that has crimped plans for India’s airlines to increase service to the U.S.  The Federal Aviation Administration changed in the country’s status from Category 1 to a Category 2.  The change will also mean that current flights will face existing checks, according to India’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation.  Currently, two airlines, Air India and Jet Airways, offer service from India to the U.S.

“India’s civil aviation safety oversight regime does not currently comply with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” the FAA said in a statement.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the rate of fatal accidents occurring was approximate one every 200,000 flights, according to Boeing.  Today, the safety record has improved by a ten fold, with a fatal accident occurring less than once in every two million flights.  “Every day approximately six million people board airplanes and arrive safely at their destinations,” according to a webpage on Boeing’s website devoted to aviation safety.  “Flying is one of the safest modes of transportation today.”

Over the next 20 years, the region will need 12,820 new aircraft to accommodate a tremendous growth in air traffic, according to a statement by Boeing at the Singapore Airshow in February.  Boeing is forecasting a $1.9 trillion market over this period, with demand driven largely by airlines acquiring single-aisle planes.

(Photo: NASA)

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