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Despite the Frightening Headlines, Data Show 2023 Was the Safest Year Ever for Air Travel

Airports + Flying
by Eben Diskin Mar 1, 2024

It’d be easy to take one look at the recent headlines about air travel and conclude that flying is frightening. People opening exit doors on airplanes. Blocked emergency exit doors flying off in the air. Near collisions between planes happening almost every day.

Yet even amid that deluge, 2023 was the safest year for air travel ever recorded.

According to the Annual Safety Report for global aviation released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 2023 was the safest year on record for plane travel based on a wide range of criteria. With 37 million aircraft movements in 2023 (including both jet and turboprop planes), there were no hull losses or fatal accidents involving passenger aircraft, and just one fatal accident involving a turboprop plane (resulting in 72 deaths).

These numbers alone may not completely dispel someone’s fear of flying, but what about more numbers?

Digging further into the results, the accident rate was .80 per million, which breaks down to roughly one accident for every 1.26 million flights – an improvement from both 2022 and the five-year rolling average. Even more encouraging, no fatal incidents occurred on any IATA member airlines in 2023.

“2023 safety performance continues to demonstrate that flying is the safest mode of transport,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, said in a press release. “Aviation places its highest priority on safety and that shows in the 2023 performance.”

The improved safety numbers aren’t just a lucky stroke of chance. They’re the result of a changing environment in the aviation industry that encourages more timely and transparent reporting of incidents. That means systemic issues are being identified earlier and addressed faster, before they result in future incidents.

According to Walsh, minimizing accidents is all about “cultivating a robust safety culture where every employee feels accountable for safety and is motivated and expected to report safety-related information. For states, it involves providing timely, comprehensive, and public accident reports.”

Continuing this success, however, means ensuring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the resources it needs to maintain necessary safety standards. In early 2023, for example, an FAA system outage – caused by a corrupted data file – resulted in thousands of flight delays and cancellations across the US. Just a few weeks earlier, an operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines resulted in hundreds of thousands of passengers being stranded. In the aftermath of these two incidents, airlines called on the federal government to increase FAA funding to ensure its technological systems are up to date, and prevent similar (or more serious) incidents from happening in the future.

Even Walsh admits there is more work to be done.

“Two high profile accidents in the first month of 2024 show that, even if flying is among the safest activities a person can do, there is always room to improve,” he said according to the release. “This is what we have done throughout our history. And we will continue to make flying ever safer.”

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