There is “an apparent halt or reversal of long term airline safety improvement trends” according to Safeskies Australia chairman David Forsyth.
“The latest statistics from several authoritative sources all indicate that airline safety is slipping backwards to fatality levels not seen since the 1990s or 1980s,” he says.
Forsyth gave his views on the situation while announcing more details of the Safeskies conference, Managing Aviation Safety in a Changing Environment which is being held Canberra from 6-8 October.
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He said Air France is sending its director of safety, Captain Bertrand de Courville as a speaker to join a panel of experts from the from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other major world aviation organisations.
Safeskies is a non-profit organisation with a long involvement with air safety promotion and is supported by the Australian air transport industry, the regulatory bodies, the Federal government and defence.
However this will be the first time in many years that the safety record, and the issues involved in maintaining safe skies have come under so much pressure.
(Australian speakers include Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and the heads of other airlines, Chief of Air Force AM Mark Binskin and other defence aviation chiefs, and the new Civil Aviation Safety Authority Director of Aviation Safety, John McCormick.)
Forsyth said a spate of airline accidents in recent weeks was concerning safety organisations because it further indicated that a steady downward trend in airline accidents and deaths over recent decades has stopped and the trend may be moving upwards.
“Statistics from ICAO, the Flight Safety Foundation, Flight International and others vary slightly depending on the criteria for defining serious accidents, but all show a similar worrying trend – over the past five years, the previous steady improvement in airline safety performance since the 1980s has plateaued or could be slipping into reverse,” he says.
While some sources say the number of large aircraft accidents in the first six months of 2009, currently counted at about 13, is down on the average of 14.8 for the first six months of the past decade, the number of fatalities for a similar period is well up from 344 to more than 550 (counting the July Iran crash).
Accidents with major death tolls so far this year include all 228 aboard the Air France jet that disappeared over the Atlantic, 152 on the Yemenia accident in the Comoros and a reported 168 in the July crash in Iran.
Forsyth warns that “if that rate continues, there could be 20 or more crashes this year, the most since 24 jets crashed in 1999. Both 2007 and 2008, with 17 and 19 major crashes respectively, had crash totals higher than their preceding years.
“Even when viewed against steadily increasing airline traffic and a high overall airline safety rate, these figures are cause for real concern.
“Airlines safety improved rapidly after WWII, particularly with the arrival of jet aircraft. It continued to improve at a slower rate in the 1980s with the introduction of automated systems like Terrain Avoidance Warning and Collision Avoidance systems.
“The third world has seen a slower rate of improvement in fatality and accident rates than most developed countries and it appears that, despite the blacklisting of some countries, the situation may be getting worse in some areas.”