What’s going on?
I can’t answer that question. I’m not part of the Air Crash Investigation team. But I can tell you that this will not be an article detailing what happened to the MH370, MH17, GE222 or AH5017 flights. There are enough articles, ongoing stories, speculations and conspiracy theories about those four incidents all over the internet which you can easily find should you be interested. With this article I will attempt to shed some light on why 2014 seems to be such a bad year when it comes to commercial airline incidents.
This article handles commercial airline incidents. In 2013 a total of 138 plane crashes happened, but just 12 of those were commercial flights.
So, is 2014 the year of the plane crashes?
It certainly seems to feel that way. First Malaysian Airlines MH370 disappears, then Malaysian Airlines MH17 gets shot down, shortly after TransAsia flight GE222 crashed due to bad weather and the very next day AH5017 crashes, also believed due to bad weather though this is still being investigated.
However, the short answer to the question is: no.
From January to the end of July 2012 and 2013 there were seven incidents involving commercial flights. For the same period in 2014, there were also seven incidents. Even though that’s exactly the same amount of incidents there is a big difference for 2014 compared to 2013 and other years. More about that further on.
In fact, compared to other years the number of incidents in the January to July period is more on the low end. Especially compared with 2007-2011. Those seemed to have been pretty bad years, peaking way above even the 9/11 and Russian aircraft bombing years when it comes to total incidents.
It’s important to note that in the above list an incident does not necessarily mean a crash. Some of the incidents were near-collisions, hijackings or attempts to blow up the aircraft which may have been a helicopter. Having said that, the vast majority were airplanes and did in fact crash. The total amount of deaths reflect only the number of people who were on the flight. If a flight collided with another one, or caused casualties in buildings or on the ground, those deaths are not added.
What’s the long answer?
Commercial airplanes can be big or small. You don’t have to imagine a big Boeing 777 when you think of one, a Bombardier CRJ200 is perhaps much smaller, but just as much a commercial airplane. Related to that, a high number of incidents doesn’t necessarily mean a high number of deaths or the other way around. Much of it depends on how many people were on board. There were almost a record high 24 incidents in 2011 leaving “just” 460 casualties. This is a sharp contrast with 2006 when a record low 9 incidents left 783 people dead.
Let’s have a look and see what happened last year.
Of the seven incidents from Jan-Jul 2013, four happened with a smaller type of airplane:
- January 29 – SCAT Airlines Flight 760 was such a Bombardier CRJ200 killing all 21 people on board
- February 13 – South Airlines Flight 8971 was an Antonov An-24 in which 5 of it’s 52 passengers died
- May 16 – Nepal Airlines Flight 555 was a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 in which fortunately nobody died
- July 7 – A Rediske Air flight with a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 left 10 people dead
This makes for a total of 36 deaths in smaller types of aircraft. The total for that period is 46, meaning that in the following three crashes with much larger airplanes only 10 people lost their lives. Yet these were the ones that were on the news. You may remember them!
April 13 – Lion Air Flight 904 :
This one was the first to make the world headlines last year. The reason for this was that it was a big airplane, a Boeing 737, and it’s destination was Bali. I personally remember it very well as it happened while I was on a flight from Singapore to Bali myself, causing some worry amongst family and friends. Luckily it was another flight. Lion Air Flight 904 crashed just short of the runway while attempting to land. The plane itself was brand new, delivered by Boeing to Lion Air on February 21st. Investigation showed that there was nothing wrong with the plane. In short, the pilot kept descending because he could not see the runway. Eventually the plane was so low that it contacted the water and went down. Initially a lot was said about downward wind shears which could have caused the plane to descend more than planned, but no indication of this seems to have been found. Luckily nobody died in this crash, though 46 people did get injured.
April 29 – National Airlines Flight 102 :
It is more than likely that you will remember this one, as the crash was recorded on a dash cam and in the days after it was all over the internet.
Even though this incident happened at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, this was a commercial flight. The plane was a Boeing 747 freighter which carried only seven crew members, all of whom died in the crash. Because this happend in Afghanistan the world was quick to theorize that there was sabotage involved, or some other kind of terrorist attack. But the investigation showed that the load inside the freighter hadn’t been secured properly and started shifting, leaving the plane and the crew no chance. The load master who was in charge of making sure the cargo was secured was on the flight himself.
July 6 – Asiana Airlines Flight 214 :
Like the previous one, this one was captured on camera. I believe the man who filmed this was a plane spotter and decided to film just a few more minutes when he captured the footage below. This of course meant mass media exposure on television as well as on the internet.
This was the first incident involving a Boeing 777 in which people lost their lives. In this case, three people died.
What makes this crash all the more strange is that one of them died because she was run over by an airport crash tender. First it was implied that the 16 year old girl was already dead before she got run over, but later it came to light that she was in fact still alive. The poor girl may have made it out alive otherwise. Looking at the footage of the crash it is amazing that only three deaths occured in this incident.
One of the reasons for this may be that the Boeing 777 has an amazing safety record. This was the first crash involving a death for the 777 since it began operating commercially in 1995. The only other incident involving this plane happened in 2008. The plane was beyond repair and even though 47 people were injured, no lives were lost.
How about 2014, what is that big difference?
As you saw, of the seven incidents in 2013, three of them were quite memorable. And even though lives were regretfully lost, seeing as to what happened, the number of lives lost could have been much worse.
The big difference lies in the total amount of casualties in 2014.
On March the 8th flight MH307 alone was responsible for the loss of 239 lives. This is much more than the 46 in the same time period in 2013 by itself. Even worse, with 190 total lives lost in 2013 due to commercial airplane crashes flight MH307 far surpassed that number by itself.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. The world was in shock when another Malaysian airlines flight, MH17, was lost on July the 17th. Another Boeing 777 crashed, but this time because it was shot down. Because of the violent method involvolved in this crash, all 298 people on board lost their lives. Again, this number alone is huge. It even comes close to doubling the 2013 amount by itself.
Just six days later, on July the 23rd, TransAsia Airways Flight 222 went down. This time in Taiwan and with a smaller ATR72-500. Due to it’s smaller size only 47 people regretfully died in the crash which is thought to have happened because of bad weather conditions. By itself this may or may not have made world news headlines. The main reason why it did was because it happened so short after MH17 was shot down.
Incredibly, just one day later on July the 24th another big airplane crashed. Air Algérie flight AH5017, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, crashed in Mali. All 110 passengers and 6 crew died in the incident.
In total, these three incidents left 700 people dead in commercial incidents. This is a huge number, but unfortunately not yet complete for 2014. The three other incidents that happened were:
- February 16 – Nepal Airlines Flight 183 : all 18 people on board died
- February 17 – Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 : hijacked by the co-pilot. Landed safely in Geneva, nobody was harmed
- July 2 – Skyward International Aviation Fokker 50 : all of the 4 crew on board died
This brings the total amount of deaths to an incredible 722. That means that almost four times the total amount of lives lost in 2013, were lost in just seven months in 2014.
If we add some minimum and maximum numbers to the incident list, we see that with just 7 incidents we’re below the average and so on the low side for the Jan-Jul period. However, with 722 casualties we’ve already far surpassed the average of 608 for other total years, creeping up towards the maximum number of 2005!
Looking at that I wouldn’t say it’s the year of the plane crashes, but rather the year of the plane casualties.
I thought flying was the safest method of transport…?
It was. And it still is. Even though a large amount of people lost their lives to it. The difference is that when a big crash happens, many lives are lost at once. It makes headlines in the papers, it’s on the news and all over the internet.
But the reality is that in the U.S. alone on average 40.000 people die in motorvehicle accidents every year! That’s almost 110 people every day! And that’s only in the U.S.! I can’t even imagine how large that figure would be if we would add the rest of the world’s numbers to that, and include alternative methods of transport. It is a staggering amount which far surpasses the total amount of deaths due to commercial airplane crashes. And that’s an understatement. The list shows that in 14 years all over the world less than a quarter of the amount of deaths occured compared to the motorvehicle deaths every year in the U.S. alone. Luckily that last figure has been going down in the past years.
And don’t forget that we still don’t know what really happened to MH307. The airplane may very well have been working perfectly fine. It may have been a pilot who caused the plane to go down. This means that the danger may have had it’s origins in a human being, not in the technical failings of the airplane. Having said that, since there is no evidence one way or the other, this is merely speculation.
For MH17 however we do know what happened. The airplane itself was functioning normally. The reason for the crash was external, it got shot down.
If this didn’t happen, and assuming MH307 went missing due to pilot intervention, 537 of the 722 lives would have been spared. That would have put 2014 well below the average both in incidents as in deaths, perhaps setting a new minimum for the year.
What does that mean for me?
Whatever you make of it. It’s up to you to think about what happened and make of it what you want. But whatever you make of it, don’t turn it into a fear of flying! It still is, and for a long time will be, the safest method of transport. Even with Malaysian Airlines! The company was very unlucky this year, and may very well go bankrupt because of the events and the concequences that go with them. That’s a whole different story.
But don’t cancel your plans! Don’t skip out on visiting that country you wanted to! Don’t postpone the adventurous trip you had in mind! The world is a varied place. It’s worth discovering and bringing back home what you’ve learned.
If I can’t convince you, maybe these 7 reasons flying is still the safest way to travel can!
So have a nice, and safe, trip!