Prevention and cure
Numerous recent aircraft crashes has put operational safety on the sector's radar.
Over the last 10 years, air accident rates have improved by 49%, but since July 2007, there have been seven fatal air crashes across the globe. While the Middle East region boasts an impressive safety record, the Asia/Pacific region saw an increase in its accident rate, particularly in Indonesia, and Africa is an area where action is needed to further improve accident rates.
Despite a recent drop in the price of fuel, industry critics are saying that airlines are cutting back on costs, which is to the detriment of maintenance checks, so how are airline safety requirements monitored?
According to Guenther Matschnigg, senior vice president of safety, operations and infrastructure for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), almost half of accidents in 2007 took place during landing.
In September of last year, 88 people died as an aircraft landed in Phuket and two months earlier a Tam Airways plane exploded after touch down in Sao Paulo.
"Most accidents occur in the landing/approach phase and what we call the runway excursion," says Matschnigg. "This is either due to wrong decision-making, not doing the go-around, the runway itself or the training of pilots," Matschnigg says.
IATA's 2007 Safety Report states that most accidents can be prevented by the initiation of a timely go-around. Air crew require additional training to improve the go-around decision-making process throughout the approach to landing, as well as to improve carrying out the go-around itself, but IATA believes this exercise should become an integral part of an airline's culture.
"We have developed a runway excursion prevention programme, which will be ready for airlines to use by the end of the year," explains Matschnigg. "This has not just been developed by IATA, but by experts too, and we hope to include this programme into our standards once it has been proven."
Existing programmes such as IATA's Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is the first global standard for airline operational safety auditing. Any airline wishing to join IATA must first complete IOSA.
In 2006, six members were removed from IATA membership for failing to contract an audit and the same number again were removed in 2007. IATA estimates that audits avoided have resulted in industry savings of US$56.9 million.
Technical issues are linked to the majority of air accidents and in 2007 maintenance issues contributed to almost 20% of all occurrences. IATA suggests that airlines need to uphold proper safety assurance of maintenance activities, whether these are run in-house or as an outsourced function.
"Both ways have been proven to work and there are advantages to both," admits Matschnigg. "Whether you out-source your maintenance activities or not depends on the structure of the airline."
"It makes sense to out-source certain heavy maintenance operations, particularly if your fleet is small. If you have lots of aircraft then in-house maintenance is more feasible."
97% of all IATA members carried out an audit by end 2007.
48% of accidents in 2007 took place during landing.
100 accidents in 2007.
This year, new initiatives are being introduced. The Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) builds on safety solutions for the industry and the Partnership for Safety Programme (PfS) and the Safety Trend Evaluation, Analysis and Data Exchange System (STEADES) are continuing to enhance safety standards for 2009.
Low cost safety
Low cost airlines are renowned for their bargain fares, with some short haul flights starting from as little as US$2. As a result many travellers have raised concerns that safety may be compromised to lower prices.
But Housam Raydan, corporate communications manager for Sharjah-based budget carrier, Air Arabia, says this couldn't be further from the truth.
"The low cost business model has nothing to do with the safety. As a national carrier there are certain rules to follow whether you are low cost or any other type of airline. We do regular maintenance checks on our new fleet of A320s."
In fact he argues that budget airlines are often safer than flag carriers. "From a technical point of view operating one type of aircraft makes it easier to control," he adds.
For Andrew Cowen, CEO of Saudi Arabian low cost carrier, Sama, there is no correlation between low prices and safety. "I think that the customer out here is increasingly educated about airlines. The artificial linkage that low cost somehow means compromises on engineering is an increasingly threadbare myth."
In addition, he adds that budget airlines often contract out maintenance work to larger, established companies with high safety standards. "Lufthansa Technik has such a high standard that I would think most traditional carriers would struggle to achieve."
Sept 14, 2008
A Boeing 737-500 crashes on the outskirts of the Russian city of Perm, killing all 88 passengers on board. It is believed the plane, belonging to Russia's national airline, Aeroflot, suffered a technical fault, although no problems had been reported with the 15-year-old jet when it was last inspected earlier in the year.
Aug 24, 2008
An Itek Air passenger plane crashes in Kyrgyzstan, killing 68 people. According to officials, crew had reported sudden depressurisation onboard the aircraft shortly before the collision. The airline is banned from EU airspace due to fears over safety standards.
Aug 20, 2008
An MD-82 aircraft crashes at Madrid's Barajas airport, killing 154 passengers. The Spanair flight was departing for Gran Canaria when it careered off the runway during its second attempt at take off. An investigation is underway, though media speculation suggests a combination of mechanical and human error caused the fatal accident. The airline had previously been criticised for its disorganised maintenance records.
Apr 15, 2008
A DC-9 plane crashes into a busy market area of DR Congo's capital, Gomo, killing some 70 people. Most of the passengers onboard the Hewa Bora Airways flight survived, with the majority of fatalities occurring on the ground. A pilot involved in the accident told reporters one of the engines failed during take off.
Nov 30, 2007
An Atlas jet plane crashes in a mountainous area of South West Turkey killing all 57 people onboard. A rescue helicopter was sent to scour the wreckage of the MD83 aircraft but there were no survivors. Due to an inoperative black box flight data for investigation was limited, but it's believed human error caused the crash.
Sept 16, 2007
A One-Two-Go aircraft skids off the runway while trying to land in Phuket, killing 88 of its 123 passengers. Investigations proved a combination of bad weather and pilot negligence caused the fatal crash.
The budget airline was forced to suspend its operations after the accident.
July 17, 2007
A Tam Airways plane loses control after touch down in Sao Paulo, exploding into a nearby warehouse and killing more than 200 people. Investigators believe factors leading to the fatal accident included; wet weather, human error and unfinished repair work at Congonhas airport.