2018 was an average year for air safety based on the number of accidents for cargo and passenger operators. Let’s put it into a little broader perspective.

Airlines flew nearly 4.5 billion passengers on nearly 45 million flights worldwide. Those are both record-breaking figures. But sadly, there were 15 accidents worldwide according to the Aviation Safety Network. Two of them were widely reported: the engine failure and cowling separation on Southwest Flight 1380 near Philadelphia, and the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 near Jakarta, Indonesia.

The engine failure on the Southwest flight caused inspections on all similar engines to ensure that no similar cracks existed in other engine fan blades. Additionally, regulators are looking at how the cowling departed the airplane, striking the wing and fuselage. They are reviewing certification standards and the life limits for engine components. While today’s engines are incredibly reliable, a tragedy such as the loss of a life on Southwest 1380 causes a thorough review.  

The Lion Air investigation is ongoing. There have been notices sent to all 737 MAX pilots to reduce the likelihood of a similar accident. The industry acted quickly to address the initial issues raised in the investigation.

In the U.S., airline (fixed wing) operations began on Jan. 1, 1914, with the initial flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. It flew more than a thousand passengers safely in its five months of operation. It was a good start for commercial airlines to follow.  In the 104 years since that first commercial flight, airlines now fly all around the globe, safely delivering passengers and cargo to thousands of destinations. Safety has improved through those years.

As with every year, 2018 gave us information we will use to improve safety. The thorough investigation of the 737 MAX accident in Jakarta will help this new version of the world’s most widely used jetliner maintain its very good safety record. As has happened in the history of aviation, out of this tragedy will come knowledge that makes future flights safer.

The airline industry and aviation regulators continue to modernize air traffic control, bring new airliners into the fleet and improve training. Each of these are essential elements of a commitment to improving aviation safety. While there is a widely reported shortage of pilots, we have to ensure that the men and women in our flight decks maintain the extraordinary degree of professionalism that helped provide the level of safety we have today.

Following aviation’s safest year in 2017, this year seems a bit of a letdown. It serves as a powerful reminder of the critical importance of remaining vigilant and committed to transporting passengers, crew and cargo safely by air.

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