Thursday, 27 June 2013
Air France: one of the world's safest airlines? Far from it (Part 1 of 2)
I was discussing civil aviation safety with a friend recently, and he said that Air France was one of the safest airlines in the world. But it seemed to me that his knowledge of these issues was limited - none of us are experts at everything after all - because I happen to be a keen follower of air safety issues and his words just didn't ring true somehow. I had the impression that he was just trotting out an 'ism' that everyone knee-jerkingly believes. So I went and dug up some stats, and this is what I came up with.
The first thing I did was to see if Air France is in the top ten list of safest airlines in the world over the last 30 years. It isn't.
That prompted me to dig deeper, and I then discovered that Air France has had 22 major accidents resulting in over over 1,250 fatalities since the 1950s. What does that mean in relative terms? That is a difficult question to answer because stats can be twisted as we know, but as an illustration of my good faith and an honest attempt to be objective I can relate comparative stats for British Airways - which is the 10th safest airline in the world - and state that they have had just 3 major accidents and 140 victims in the same 60-year period, that is to say since the 1950s. That is a massive difference by any yardstick.
Worse, the last 15 years of Air France's safety record have been particularly appalling. Fatal crashes during this period include;
2000 - Paris. 113 dead in the crash of an air France Concord shortly after takeoff. American airline Continental Airways was blamed for that disaster. It was alleged by French aviation authorities that faulty maintenance on a Continental plane led to a piece of metal falling off it as it took off just before the Concord, leading to the tyre burst on the Concord that resulted in the accident. Continental is currently appealing that decision.
2003 - Brest. 1 dead and a total plane write-off in a crash-landing. This accident was imputed by French aviation authorities to pilot error.
2005 - Toronto. Total plane write-off upon landing and - "miraculously" as was said at the time - no victims. Pilot error. Again.
2007 - Pau. 1 victim in a total plane write-off during takeoff. Pilot error. Well well well.
2009 - Rio Paris flight 447. 228 dead after it went down in the Atlantic. Primarily pilot error. This simplistic conclusion by authorities was and remains a disgrace.
That's a total of 343 victims in just 13 years. In other words, if you spread that death rate out over the last 60 years, Air France's mortality record is actually getting worse over time.
But why is that the case?
I'll be explaining the reasons in Part 2, but in the meantime suffice it to say that those reasons are contained in clues in this blogpost for those who know how to look for them.