Airline safety rating business, AirlineRatings.com, has recently updated its list of the world’s safest airlines. Much to its pleasure, Air New Zealand comes out on top, with a trail of other reputable airlines nipping at its heels.
AirlineRatings measures around 230 airlines across four criteria – fatalities, incidents, audits, and COVID compliance. The best airlines get awarded seven stars, and plenty make the grade.
Behind Air New Zealand, in order, are the world’s safest airlines in 2022. They are Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, SAS, Qantas, Alaska Airlines, EVA Air, Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, Lufthansa/Swiss Group, Finnair, Air France/KLM Group, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Emirates.
That’s all well and reassuring. From a safety perspective, most of us will happily fly on any of these airlines any day. But let’s cut to the chase – what about the airlines at the other end of the list?
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Meet the one-star airlines
Eight airlines only get one star. Those airlines include Pakistan International Airlines, Air Algerie, Scat, Sriwijaya Air, Airblue, Blue Wing, Iran Aseman Airlines, and Nepal Airlines. Buckle up if you have flights on any of these airlines booked soon.
AirlineRatings gives three stars if any airline avoids a fatality over the long term, two stars if serious incidents are avoided, and a star each for passing audits and COVID compliance.
Obviously, no one likes a fatality. AirlineRatings looks not only at the fatal incident but what caused it and what’s was later done at the airline since to fix the problem if, say, pilot error was to blame.
Neither Ethiopian Airlines nor Lion Air suffer the ignominy of one-star status (they both have two stars) even though they famously lost 737 MAXs in recent years. However, the problems with the MAXs have since been well documented, and AirlineRatings doesn’t necessarily hold an airline response for fatalities beyond the airline’s control.
Fatalities matter, particularly if pilot error is a cause
Indonesia-based Sriwijaya Air lost 62 passengers and crew when one of its Boeing 737-500 crashed last January shortly after takeoff from Jakarta. In 2020, a PIA Airbus A320 went down in a crowded neighborhood in Karachi on its second landing attempt, killing 100 people.
In 2018, an Iran Aseman Airlines ATR 72–200 crashed into the Zagros Mountains in Iran, killing all 66 people onboard. An Air Algerie McDonnell Douglas MD-83 flying to Algiers in July 2014 down in northern Mali, killing all 116 on the aircraft.
In the same year, Nepal Airlines hit the headlines when one of its de Havilland Canada DHC-6 crashed in February, killing the 18 passengers and crew. Kazakhstan-based SCAT Airlines makes the list because they lost a Bombardier CRJ200 and 21 passengers and crew in January 2013.
Circumstances exist when an airline isn’t held responsible for fatalities
Pakistan-based Airblue lost an Airbus A321-200 in 2010 when it crashed near Islamabad and killed 146 people. Finally, Suriname-based Blue Wings Airlines lost an Antonov An-28 and 19 people in 2008 when a landing at Lawa Antino Airport in Benzdorp, Suriname, went wrong.
“Three stars are deleted from the rating if the airline has had any fatalities to passengers or crew in the prior ten years,” says the AirlineRatings website. “It is AirlineRatings view that it takes up to ten years for an airline’s safety culture to change after an accident. It can also take up to ten years for the airline to replace older aircraft types, upgrade avionics or systems that may have contributed to the accident.
“A fatality is deemed as the death of crew and/or passengers while onboard the aircraft due to an accident. If deaths occurred through acts of terrorism, high jackings, or pilot suicide, they were not included. Nor if the death is not attributable to the airline (faulty manufactured part).
“If an airline suffered a fatal accident through no fault of its own such as a runway incursion on the active runway (an incident where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway) this has also not been included.”
There are incidents; then there are incidents
Two stars are awarded if an airline has a relatively blemish-free recent history regarding incidents. Except for PIA, all the airlines got one out of two stars here. Incidents come in all shapes and sizes and impact all airlines. Last year, Air New Zealand had several incidents involving smoke indicators and an engine shutdown.
PIA has those kinds of problems too. But PIA also has a recent history of runway incursions and loss of separations issues – more serious than a faulty smoke indicator light.
Air Algerie was the only one of the eight one-star airlines to get the audit tick. This category looks at whether the airline abides by IATA’s Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) regime designed to assess an airline’s operational management and control systems.
IOSA isn’t compulsory, and not every airline takes part. AirlineRatings is also interested in whether airlines are on the EU and/or FAA blacklists. The EU currently blacklists 96 airlines, including Iran Aseman, Blue Wings, and Nepal Airlines. While the United States bans airlines from over 20 countries, none of those bans cover these one-star airlines.
In most cases, given the home location, operational capabilities, and aircraft types, EU and FAA black bans for many of these airlines are irrelevant. They’ll never fly there even if allowed.
Good news: PIA is COVID compliant
Finally, PIA gets a break from AirlineRatings. They are COVID compliant. Your PIA flight might have a higher propensity than others for, say, a runway incident, but the chances are this will occur in a COVID-compliant manner.
None of the eight other one-star airlines make the COVID grade. Given all the other challenges they face, making sure passengers wear face masks or wiping down the armrests during turnarounds must seem like the least of their problems.
We’re not suggesting flying any of these one-star airlines is unsafe. After all, flying is an inherently safe business. Fortunately, serious accidents and fatalities are few and far between. But some airlines are safer than others. The latest AirlineRatings rankings give passengers a good idea of the airline safety high flyers. and the also-rans