In Terms of Safety, Airlines Emerge from 'Disappointing' 2010

London-based aerospace consultancy and equipment appraiser Ascend characterized 2010 as "a disappointing year" in terms of airline safety, as both the number of fatal accidents and total fatalities increased over previous years. According to Ascend's data, the number of fatal accidents increased 22 percent, from 23 in 2009 to 28 last year. The incidence of fatal accident for 2010 also slightly exceeded the annual average for the last decade (27.2), but still finished better than the 1990s' average of 37.6.

In terms of fatal accident rates, Ascend characterized 2010 as "poor," particularly compared with 2009, the safest year on record. The fatal accident rate increased from one in 1.5 million flights in 2009 to one in 1.3 million last year. However, 2010 still compared favorably with earlier years as, apart from 2009, only 2007 and 2006 produced better accident rates.

Meanwhile, consistent with the increase in total fatal accidents, the total number of passengers and crewmembers killed rose from 731 during 2009 to 828 in 2010, yielding a 13-percent increase. Last year's fatality total even exceeded the decade average of 794; compared with the 1990s' average of 1,128, however, 2010 showed an improvement of 27 percent.

In fact, despite the relatively weak showing in 2010, the airline industry ended the decade with a far better safety record than it posted in the 1990s. Although almost 8,000 passengers and crewmembers died in airline accidents in the last decade, the 1990s saw 11,280 deaths. On average, some 330 fewer passengers and crewmembers died in airline accidents each year since 2000 than during the 1990s.

All told, the airline industry tallied 100 fewer fatal accidents during the last decade than during the 1990s, when the number of fatal accident averaged 37.6. During the 2000s, the annual average finished at 27.2.

Ascend estimated that the cost of incurred airline hull and legal liability losses last year totaled about $2.15 billion. Although that figure compared favorably with 2009's losses of some $2.52 billion, it still managed to exceed the estimated $2.1 billion of insurance premium written during the calendar year. The company also noted that the estimated cost of losses incurred has either nearly matched or exceeded premium each year since 2007. Written premium from 2007 through 2010 totals about $7.3 billion while losses stand at some $8.2 billion.