Safely Through the Skies

Although passenger numbers continue to rise, the number of air traffic fatalities fell once again in 2017. How does aviation achieve such a high level of security?

Flying was around 350 times safer in 2017 than in the 1970s. Photo: Fotolia / phaisarnwong2517

In 2017 flying was around 350 times safer than in the 1970s. Foto: Fotolia / phaisarnwong2517

With these statistics, airline passengers are sure to feel much less weighed down when taking off: In 2017 there were less fatal accidents than ever before in commercial aviation. According to figures provided by the Aviation Safety Network of the International Civil Aviation Organization, there were a total of ten accidents involving aircraft in civil operation. In these accidents, 79 ­people lost their lives. Of those, 44 were passengers or crew members on board an aircraft. Airlines carried over four billion passengers in 2017, according to the ICAO. That is over 13 times the number that took to the skies in 1970. While the statistical probability of losing one’s life in a plane crash was, on average, 1 in 264,000 in the 1970s, this dropped to 1 in 92.75 million last year. This means that flying was around 350 times as safe in 2017 as it was in the 1970s.

Safety is Checked in Many Different Ways

“Safety is the number one priority for everybody involved in aviation,” emphasizes Matthias von Randow, Managing Director of the German Aviation Association (BDL). This applies to both the safety of flight operations themselves and the prevention of targeted external hazards. “Aircraft manufacturers and other businesses in the aviation economy are cooperating with authorities and political bodies to do everything they can to ensure that flying remains safe,” von Randow asserts.

For example, repairs and maintenance of commercial aircraft are strictly controlled by both national and international regulations. In addition, each manufacturer specifies precisely for each and every aircraft type when each component needs to undergo maintenance, depending on factors including the number of flights with respect to the total number of flying hours. In addition, the authorities can mandate certain measures. If a pilot reports a fault, it is the duty of the technical department to rectify its cause. The fact that everything is compliant and has been maintained properly on each individual aircraft is confirmed annually by the German Aviation Authority with an “Airworthiness Review Certificate.”

Source: Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC), Hamburg

Source: Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC), Hamburg

“Global aviation has developed a great number of procedures with which everyday risks can be combated,” confirms Long-Haul Pilot Nikolaus Braun, who works for a large German airline. A core consideration in constructing aircraft is “redundancy.” This means that all critical components – be they individual screws or complex systems – are at least provided in duplicate, and for certain components in triplicate. “If a part fails, the remaining system ensures that its function is upheld,” explains the qualified engineer for aviation system mechanics and management, who regularly answers questions surrounding aviation technology and flight operations in the “Answers from the Cockpit” series on industry ­portal

Pilots Have to Prove Themselves Twice a Year in the Simulator

Braun continues to explain that the “ideal airline” is one that also strives to remove any pressure from the air crew. “Pilots must at all times have the ability to perform the necessary measures to ensure a safe flight.” The autopilot function is both friend and foe in this overall context – on the one hand, it takes care of much of the work, on the other, constant usage reduces the training of the pilot’s manual abilities. Twice a year, pilots must prove to an inspector that they still have full mastery of all procedures, doing so in a simulator. They must also demonstrate their ability to do that which we all hope for upon taking to the skies – land the aircraft safely.


Annette Wiedemann. Photo: Roland Vorlaufer

Three Questions to Annette Wiedemann, Director of Aviation Services and DEKRA Cargo & Security Services GmbH

The volume of traffic is also growing in the skies above us. What consequences does this have on air safety?

Air traffic safety is clearly regulated and the increasing level of traffic is not going to change this. To cater for the volume of passengers, close coordination between the relevant authorities, service businesses and airports is indispensable. Projects at various airports have already delivered valuable insights into how checkpoints can guarantee increased flow rates. Passengers can also play a role, by already taking off jackets and removing electronic devices from their luggage, before being asked.

What role does DEKRA Aviation take in all this?

We educate personnel that are involved in air safety, train them, and support enterprises in establishing safe processes and writing their air safety programs. In addition, we perform safety inspections at one of Germany’s largest airports. In these, our employees simulate controlled situations, in which they may try to access secure areas with false identification or boarding cards.

What control mechanisms and methods are used to guarantee passenger and cargo safety?

For passengers, gate detectors and security scanners are used, among other options. Hand luggage, carried items and checked luggage are all x-rayed. Testing for explosive substances is also carried out on the hand luggage of randomly selected passengers. More than 50 percent of air freight is carried on passenger aircraft, and is inspected thoroughly, especially when a secure delivery chain has not been guaranteed. Inspections are carried out by regimented professionals, who employ such methods as x-ray scanning and sniffer dogs.

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