For the first time in 15 years, there were no runway or taxiway excursion accidents in commercial aviation in 2021, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) 2021 safety performance data. Overall the commercial airline industry showed a big improvement in several safety areas compared to 2020 and the last five years (2017-2021).
In 2021, there was one accident per every 0.99 million flights, an overall improvement compared to the levels shown in the previous five years. According to IATA, in 2020, the rate was one accident every 0.63 million flights, and between 2017 and 2021, the average was one accident every 0.81 million flights.
There were a total of 26 accidents worldwide in 2021, including seven fatal accidents; one jet and six turboprop aircraft were involved. A total of 121 people died last year due to commercial aviation accidents. Nonetheless, among the IATA member airlines, there were zero deaths.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, said,
“Safety is always our highest priority. The severe reduction in flight numbers last year compared to the 5-year average magnified the impact of each accident when we calculate rates. Yet, in the face of numerous operational challenges in 2021, the industry improved in several key safety metrics. At the same time, it is clear that we have much work ahead of us to bring all regions and types of operations up to global levels of safety performance.”
In the last five years, 2017 was the safest one in terms of accidents and fatalities. IATA recorded only six fatal accidents and 19 deaths in 42.5 million flights worldwide.
There was one accident per every 0.99 million flights in 2021. Photo: Getty Images.
Zero runway and taxiway excursion accidents
One of the highlights in 2021 was zero runway and taxiway excursion accidents in commercial aviation.
In the five previous years (between 2016 and 2020), runway and taxiway excursion accidents had the highest frequency of accidents worldwide. Between those years, IATA registered 79 excursions, nearly 30% of all the accidents in that span.
A runway excursion occurs when an aircraft departs the runway in use during the take-off or landing run. There are also runway incursions, although those are less frequent.
Despite IATA claims, there were a few runway excursions in 2021, although not directly related to commercial aviation. For instance, a test flight for an Irkut MC-21 prototype aircraft slid off the runway and got stuck in the snow at Moscow-Zhukovsky airport in January 2021.
Turboprops remain IATA’s main area of concern in terms of safety. Photo: Getty Images.
Turboprop, Africa, and CIS regions are the main areas of concern
Approximately 50% of all accidents in 2021 involved the use of a turboprop aircraft, said IATA in its safety report.
Although sectors flown by turboprops represented only 10.99% of total sectors, accidents involving turboprop aircraft represented 50% of all accidents, 86% of fatal accidents, and 49% of fatalities.
Willie Walsh said,
“Turboprop operations will be a focus area to identify ways and means to reduce the number of incidents related to certain aircraft types.”
Finally, IATA focused its report on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Africa.
Airlines based in the CIS region (which includes countries from the former Soviet Union) had no fatal jet accidents in 2021 for the second consecutive year. However, there were four turboprop accidents, and three of these resulted in 41 fatalities, more than a third of overall 2021 fatalities.
Meanwhile, airlines based in sub-Saharan Africa registered four accidents in 2021, all with turboprop aircraft, three of which resulted in 18 fatalities.
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