Fewer air disasters in 2020 but more people die

January 03, 2021
The scene from the PIA crash.

A drastic reduction in the number of flights in 2020 did not stop the number of people killed in air disasters rising to 299 from 257 in 2019, according to a new analysis.

The first in what will be several analyses of aviation tragedies in 2020 shows there were 40 crashes in 2020, five of which were fatal, compared to 86 in 2019, eight of which were fatal.

The increase comes as Flightradar24 estimated the number of commercial flights fell by 42 percent in 2020 while total flights finished 27 percent below 2019 levels.

The disaster figures from Dutch aviation consultants to70 differ from others in that the company includes attacks on aircraft such as the shooting down in Iran in January 2020 of a Ukraine International Boeing 737-800 with 176 people on board.

This inflates the company’s 2020 fatality figures compared to those presented by organizations that do not classify terrorism or acts of war as accidents.

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Other disasters during 2020 included the crash in May of Pakistan International Airlines A320 that killed 98 people, an Air India Express Boeing 737 accident in August that resulted in 21 deaths and a Pegasus Airlines crash in Turkey that killed three and saw a Boeing 737 split in two.

The consultancy put the fatal accident rate for large commercial transport aircraft at 0.27 per million flights, or one for every 3.7 million flights.

It noted this was similar to the average rate for the last 10 years.

“Whilst the accident rate for 2020 remains low, the circumstances around a number of the accidents is cause for concern,’’ the company said.

“Three of the five fatal accidents in 2020 and several of the non-fatal ones relate to aeroplanes that left the paved surface of the runway; runway excursions.

“Following the trend of other runway excursions these events have been contributed to by events leading up to the final approach and landing.

“The Turkish accident in February and the Indian one in August both occurred in heavy rain. The latter also, reportedly, landed with a strong tailwind.”

The pilots in May’s PIA accident failed to follow procedures and ignored warnings as they attempted to land with the undercarriage raised and damaged the engines prior to executing a go-around.

Both engines subsequently failed and the aircraft crashed before reaching the runway, killing 97 people in the plane and one on the ground. Two passengers miraculously survived.

The crash revealed a problem with Pakistani pilots bribing others to take exams for them and PIA sacked 150 cockpit crew over cheating.