Airline passenger fatalities around the globe has declined sharply over the past decade as new research has revealed that the fatalities rate is now one death per 7.9 million passenger boardings, compared to one death per 2.7 million boardings during the period 1998-2007, and one death per 1.3 million boardings during 1988-1997.
The commercial airline fatality risk was one death per 750,000 boardings during 1978-1987, and one death per 350,000 boardings from 1968-1977, said the study published in the journal Transportation Science.
"The worldwide risk of being killed had been dropping by a factor of two every decade," said study author Arnold Barnett, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management.
Noticeable regional variation in airline safety
"Not only has that continued in the last decade, but the (latest) improvement is also closer to a factor of three. The pace of improvement has not slackened at all even as flying has gotten ever safer and further gains become harder to achieve," Barnett said.
The new research also revealed that there is discernible regional variation in airline safety around the world. Nations housing the lowest-risk airlines are the US, the members of the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, showed the results.
The aggregate fatality risk among those nations was one death per 33.1 million passenger boardings during 2008-2017. For airlines in the second set of countries, which Barnett terms the "advancing" set with an intermediate risk level, the rate is one death per 7.4 million boardings during 2008-2017.
This group -- comprising countries that are generally rapidly industrialising and have recently achieved high overall life expectancy and GDP per capita -- includes many countries in Asia as well as some countries in South America and the Middle East.
Rate of fatalities have declined faster
For a third and higher-risk set of developing countries, including some in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the death risk during 2008-2017 was one per 1.2 million passenger boardings -- an improvement from one death per 400,000 passenger boardings during 1998-2007.
"The two most conspicuous changes compared to previous decades were sharp improvements in China and in Eastern Europe," said Barnett. Overall, the rate of fatalities has declined far faster than public fears about flying," Barnett said. "It's a factor of 10 safer than it was 40 years ago, although I bet anxiety levels have not gone down that much. I think it's good to have the facts," he added.
To conduct the current study, Barnett used data from a number of sources, including the Flight Safety Foundation's Aviation Safety Network Accident Database. He mostly used data from the World Bank, based on information from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to measure the number of passengers carried, which is now roughly 4 billion per year.