Safety Continuously working to improve safety


Over the past decade, the industry has witnessed a 54% improvement in its all-accident rate and a 78% improvement in its jet hull loss accident rate. The trend for the “business of freedom” is clearly toward fewer and less-lethal airline accidents. Fluctuations, though, do occur from year to year.

This was the case for 2018, when 4.4 billion passengers flew safely on 46.1 million flights. The jet and turboprop hull loss rates, the all-accident rate, and the fatality risk all improved compared with their performances over the preceding five years. The industry, however, did not match its extraordinary performance of 2017, its safest-ever year, during which there were 6 fatal accidents and 19 fatalities, none of which occurred in passenger jet operations.

Every accident, of course, is a tragedy. And that makes the aviation industry all the more determined to improve on its safety record each successive year.

Developments in 2018 

In 2018, there were 11 fatal accidents that resulted in 523 fatalities among passengers and crew. This contrasts with an average of 8.8 fatal accidents and approximately 234 fatalities per year in the previous five-year period, from 2013 to 2017, and with 2017’s record-low 6 fatal accidents and 19 passenger and crew fatalities. Notwithstanding 2018’s higher numbers, the year’s performance still means that on average a passenger could take a flight every day for 16,581 years before experiencing a fatal accident in which all on board perish.

The all-accident rate (measured in accidents per 1 million flights) in 2018 was 1.35, the equivalent of 1 accident for every 740,000 flights. This was an improvement over the all-accident rate of 1.79, or 1 accident for every 559,000 flights, in the 2013–2017 period, but a decline compared with 2017’s record-low all-accident rate of 1.11.

The same pattern held for major accidents. The 2018 rate for major jet accidents (measured in jet hull losses per 1 million flights) was 0.19, the equivalent of 1 major accident for every 5.4 million flights. This was an improvement over the rate for the previous five years, from 2013 to 2017, of 1 accident for every 3.4 million flights but not as good as the rate of 0.12 in 2017.

Another way to look at aviation’s 2018 safety performance is to ask, what would have happened if the industry had performed at 2013 levels? The answer is that it would have experienced 109 accidents in 2018, rather than 62, with 38 hull losses, instead of the 12 that did occur, simply based on the greater number of flights operated in 2018.

The industry’s solid progress in safety aside, everyone in air transport is shocked and challenged by the crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by Lion Air (29 October 2018) and Ethiopian Airlines (10 March 2019). These two tragedies, occurring only four months apart under what appear to be broadly similar circumstances, led to the global grounding of this model of aircraft.

IATA respects the decision of regulatory authorities globally to ground the 737 MAX. And though IATA has no role in the process, it looks to the aircraft manufacturer to cooperate with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other safety regulators in developing a safe and robust solution that addresses all identified concerns. At the same time, there is no substitute for thorough and timely investigations of both accidents. Safety is a top priority in aviation, and what is learned from every accident investigation is vital to the efforts to further safety.

The aviation industry is determined to improve on its safety record each successive year.

The regional story

With the exception of Latin America and the Caribbean and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), every region globally reported improvement in its 2018 all-accident rate compared with the rates for the preceding five years. North Asia and Africa continued their excellent recent records of zero jet hull losses. Europe and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) also had zero hull losses in 2018.

Turboprop operations still present a challenge. But it is important to note that turboprop operations in all regions except MENA saw improved performances compared with the previous five years—and the spike in the MENA rate was the result of only one accident. Turboprops, however, flew just 18% of the sectors in 2018 and yet accounted for 45%, or 5 of 11, of the fatal accidents globally.

Detailed information on the industry’s safety performance can be found in the IATA 2018 Safety Report.

Jet hull loss rates by region of operator (per million departures)

North America Latin America and the Caribbean Industry Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Europe Middle East and North Africa Africa North Asia Asia-Pacific 0.10 0.22 0.76 0.51 0.19 0.29 0.00 0.14 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.72 0.32 0.37 1.19 1.00 0.00 1.06 2018 2013–2017

Industry and IATA activities in 2018 and early 2019

IATA’s safety work is guided by a six-point safety strategy. Safety audits remain a cornerstone of measuring performance and expanding best practice to more airlines.

Unmanned aircraft systems

In 2018, there was an increase in the number of reported occurrences of small drone aircraft—so-called unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS—operating irresponsibly near airports and aircraft. The most significant events took place at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports before the Christmas holidays in 2018. The UAS sighting at Gatwick Airport resulted in the cancellation of 1,000 flights.

IATA supports the investigation of such incidents and the development of measures to safeguard against unlawful interference by UAS, such as the infringement of restricted or sensitive airspace in the area surrounding airports. Any measures should support continuous monitoring and should only be implemented following a risk assessment. In 2018, IATA issued a technical bulletin highlighting key considerations for implementing technology. IATA is involved, meanwhile, in discussions within ICAO panels on runway incursions by, and the irresponsible use of, UAS near airports.

In 2019, IATA is intensifying its focus on raising safety awareness among UAS users, specifically regarding the irresponsible use of UAS in proximity to airports and aircraft. IATA will also expand its work on UAS integration into airspace in collaboration with UAS industry innovators.

In 2019, IATA is intensifying its focus on raising safety awareness among UAS users, specifically regarding the irresponsible use of UAS in proximity to airports and aircraft.

In 2018, loss of control–inflight (LOC-I) and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents accounted for more than 80% of fatalities, even though they represented less than 10% of the accidents. 80% 10%
fatalities LOC-I, CFIT Runway Safety and Midair Collisions There were 15 runway excursions, two of which were fatal, with 52

Lithium batteries in portable electronic devices

To better understand the level of passenger awareness regarding the safety risks of the lithium batteries used in portable electronic devices (PEDs), IATA surveyed passengers in three major markets in 2018. Passengers were queried on their understanding of and compliance with airline requirements for the safe handling of lithium battery powered devices on aircraft.

The majority of travelers felt that they were well-informed about the regulations. However, approximately one-third of travelers surveyed, particularly business travelers, were still packing spare batteries and power banks in checked luggage despite the safety prohibitions. In response, IATA launched a campaign to help airlines communicate to passengers the right and wrong way to pack PEDs before they arrive at the airport.

Approximately one-third of travelers surveyed, particularly business travelers, were still packing spare batteries and power banks in checked luggage

IATA Operational Safety Audit

The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is a global standard for aviation safety. IOSA is mandatory for IATA membership, but fully 34% of the airlines on the IOSA registry are non-IATA members who appreciate the value of IOSA. At the end of 2018, moreover, 14 authorities worldwide recognized IOSA as the complement to the national safety oversight programs of 63 countries. European Union (EU) regulations, for instance, accept IOSA as a means of safety compliance in the Third Country Operator authorization process. IOSA is not a guarantee against an accident. Its efficacy is, however, evident when comparing aggregate safety performance levels. In 2018, the all-accident rate for airlines on the IOSA registry was more than two times lower than that of non-IOSA airlines, at 0.98 versus 2.16, and more than two and a half times better over the five years from 2014 to 2018. The IOSA program is undergoing a digital transformation that will enable IOSA-registered airlines to monitor each other’s safety performance and to benchmark their performance on a collaboration platform. In the long run, the digital transformation will also help to focus auditing on areas with the highest safety risks.

ISAGO audits vs Findings (As of December 2018)

2014 Audits Findings 2015 2016 2017 2018 215 4,776 253 252 221 245 903 911 983 774

IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations

The first audits in accordance with the new IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) model occurred in 2018. The new model introduced a number of significant changes:

  • Moving to a corps of independent, professionally trained and certified auditors and away from a pool of voluntary auditors
  • Restructuring the cost model to ensure a more even distribution of program expenses between ground service providers (GSP) and airlines
  • Applying a new auditing methodology focused on standards implementation and the alignment of the ground operations processes between a GSP’s headquarters and its network of ground operations 

Some 245 audits of GSP were conducted by independent auditors trained and qualified by IATA as members of the IATA Charter of Professional Auditors. Stakeholder feedback confirmed that the new approach produced a higher-quality and more-thorough assessment of a GSP’s management, oversight, and provision of ground services. The independent auditors raised an average of about 20 findings per audit (see chart above). Add chart nearby.

Auditors record their findings in a new style that results in a more informative audit report than in the past. And those reports are then made available to airlines, which use the information to complement their oversight obligations and risk management of outsourced ground operations.

IATA's Turbulence..IATA’s Turbulence Aware platform will provide an open solution to the industry that enables any operator to share its data through a global turbulence data repository.


Turbulence is a well-known safety hazard; passenger and cabin crew injuries related to in-flight turbulence are climbing. So, in 2018, IATA addressed this safety hazard with the introduction of Turbulence Aware, a global platform for sharing automatically generated turbulence reports in real time. A number of airlines are conducting trials of Turbulence Aware in 2019, and IATA plans to launch the platform globally in 2020.

IATA Turbulence Aware consolidates, standardizes, and accesses in real time objective turbulence data collected from multiple airlines worldwide. The platform’s purpose is to grant airline pilots and airline operational center personnel a detailed, real-time awareness of turbulence. This IATA initiative is leading the air transport industry’s shift to data-driven turbulence mitigation.

Ultimately, IATA’s Turbulence Aware platform will provide an open solution that enables any operator to share its data through a global turbulence data repository. Every participating carrier will have access to every other carrier’s real-time turbulence data, and greater preflight and in-flight situational awareness will be achieved. Additional benefits will include a decline in turbulence-related injuries and improved operational efficiencies, including reduced fuel burn, through more accurate flight planning.

Global Aviation Data Management

Because the number of accidents is in decline, techniques to improve aviation safety are increasingly shifting to data-driven analyses of trends and of the interaction between the links in the air transport chain. The goal is to expose potential risks and determine risk mitigation strategies.

This is the focus of IATA’s Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) program. GADM is one of the world’s most diverse aviation safety information exchange programs. It captures data from more than 470 industry participants, through accident and incident reports, ground damage occurrences, and flight data. The result is a comprehensive, cross-database analysis in support of a proactive, data-driven approach to advanced trend analysis and predictive risk mitigation.

All GADM data contributors have access to aggregated and de-identified reports and analyses, including

  • Industry accident and incident data and analysis and operational reports (pilot and flight attendant reports) in the Safety Trends Evaluation Analysis & Data Exchange System (STEADES);
  • aircraft ground damage reports and analyses in the Ground Damage Database (GDDB);
  • de-identified flight information from over four million flights in the Flight Data eXchange (FDX) and,
  • with the imminent introduction of the Incident Data Exchange (IDX), enhanced data analytics and benchmarking capabilities with aggregated, de-identified global safety information.

In addition, IATA has been working with more than 100 aviation safety professionals on the IATA Safety Incident Taxonomy (ISIT). ISIT will support the IDX and provide the ability to better identify global safety risks to a more granular degree than previously possible.

International Airline Training Fund

In 2018, the International Airline Training Fund (IATF) contributed to developing the skills and strengthening the capabilities of 3,435 aviation industry professionals from developing nations. Of the 160 training events delivered by the IATF during the year, 110 emphasized aviation safety, particularly in Africa.

In addition, under the auspices of the IATF, five new airlines benefited from the IOSA Implementation Training Initiative (IOSA-ITI). IOSA-ITI beneficiary Congo Airways, moreover, was admitted to the IOSA registry and became an IATA member.

New programs launched by the IATF in 2018 support

  • IOSA renewals by African carriers,
  • carriers preparing for the IATA Standard Safety Assessment,
  • network development in Africa, and
  • developing the leadership potential of women in African aviation.