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World's Safest Airlines

World's Safest Airlines: Cathay Pacific

Courtesy of Cathay Pacific Airways

Travelers can find plenty of reasons to complain about airlines—except when it comes to safety.

“Air travel has become very safe in recent years,” says Ariel Beresniak of the Air Transport Rating Agency in Geneva. “The most important airlines have very high safety profiles.”

U.S. carriers with scheduled services have experienced just one fatal crash worldwide since 2006, according to the National Safety Transportation Board. And none of the 240 leading airlines incurred a crash last year, making 2012 the safest on record, according to the International Air Transport Association.

“The design, engineering, and technology that has gone into air travel and aircraft has really made a difference in making sure that travel by air is much safer,” says Kevin Hiatt, president and CEO of the D.C.-based Flight Safety Foundation. Beresniak feels the human element has also made the skies safer, in particular more efficient aviation organizations, airline operations, and air-traffic control performance.

In a recent study, Airlines for America compared the fatality rate per 100 million passenger miles among four major transport modes in the U.S. The verdict? Passengers are five times more likely to perish on a bus or train and 72 times more likely to die in a vehicle crash than while flying a commercial airline.

Yet Hiatt cautions that even the safest airlines should not rest on their laurels. “The one area we need to keep our eye on is complacency. We’ve got to make sure that we continue to enforce the procedures and practices that we have currently in place and be on the lookout for anything that we can mitigate to prevent future accidents.”

Some airlines have more work to do than others. And not all of the world’s regions are equal, either; many carriers in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union still have disturbing safety records.

Travel + Leisure decided to find out which airlines are the safest of all by taking a Bowl Championship Series–like methodology (see full explanation below) that combines the two major global safety rankings with other critical factors to determine the top airline rankings. 

Read on for the results—a comprehensive list of the world’s safest airlines.

Methodology

We began by reviewing the latest global safety rankings from the Air Transport Rating Agency (ATRA) and the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC). Both release annual rankings, but their methodologies vary and their results are often vastly different. Based in Switzerland, ATRA’s approach is based on aviation risk assessment and advanced data analyses. JACDEC, based in Germany, uses a number of factors to determine its annual calculations including hull loss accidents and serious incidents in the last 30 years of operations in relation to the revenue passenger kilometer (RPK) during the same time span.

T+L examined ATRA’s top 20 airlines and JACDEC’s top 60 airlines from 2012 and assigned point values for each placing. We then awarded extra points to any airlines with a clean slate of no fatal crashes or other incidents since 1970—and subtracted points for fatal incidents in the past five years. We gave a slight preference to airlines with the youngest fleets, based on Skytrax ratings.

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