Commitment to air safety

Although I’ve rarely written about air safety, it’s a topic that’s always at the forefront of everyone’s minds here at Boeing.

Recent high-profile airplane incidents have led to some questioning about the safety of our air transportation system. I was asked many times about safety at the recent Paris Air Show. The discussion has spilled into social media and has sparked some blog and twitter comments comparing the safety attributes of competing airplane types.

It’s not Boeing’s or my practice to attempt to compare safety features of various airplanes - regardless of manufacturer - so don’t expect me to do that here.

All commercial airplanes, whether designed and manufactured by Boeing or another company, must meet the same stringent safety requirements before they’re certified to enter service. The fact is, today’s air system is safer than ever - and there are statistics to prove it.

Since the 1960’s, Boeing has published annually the “Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents.”

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Click on the image above to download the PDF of the latest Boeing Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents.

We began doing this report as part of our overall commitment to improve safety. Clearly we need to understand what the data is telling us before we can take meaningful steps toward improving air safety.

Boeing has just released the latest update, which includes the statistics from 2008. You can view it by clicking above or by downloading the PDF of the report here.

The new report shows that although there was a slight increase in “hull loss” accidents in 2008, the overall trend for air accidents over the past 20 or so years has been downward. By the way, a hull loss represents an airplane that is not economically practical to repair – like “totaling” your car. And remember you can have a hull loss accident without having fatalities.

People throughout the aviation community constantly strive to enhance air safety. Their work is not always visible to the public, but it’s happening every day. You can read about one example of these efforts in the July issue of Frontiers magazine.

Although the commercial aviation industry is highly competitive, all participants – regulators, manufacturers and operators – have a shared interest in identifying and addressing safety issues.

I can attest to the fact that air safety is the primary focus of everyone at Boeing. It’s the combined result of regulatory oversight, how airplanes are designed and produced, how crews operate and maintain them, and how the air traffic and airport infrastructure support them.

That’s why we work with governments, operators and other industry members every day to continuously advance safety in all aspects of the global air transportation system.

Comments (8)

Rob (Sin City):

I remembered reading recent discussion on air disaster that involve aircraft that operate by automated systems. Some debated airplane that was too automated might cause problem for pilot in gaining control of the aircraft in case of emergency. Whereas previous generation of Boeing plane provide ample of control for pilot decision in controlling the airplane.

I am not a pilot, as a passenger, I would say that riding a 747-400 at cruising or any altitude is very comfortable. While the next generation of Boeing aircraft will employ more automated system for smoother flight which relieve the pilot decision and control. One may wonder if employing automated system for additonal inflight comfort is a good thing in term of safety in light of the automated system discussion?

Does this mean that we are relinquishing safety for additional comfort?

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

When I flew halfway across the Pacific to Maui last week on a 767 my first ever two engine oceanic flight to and from LA and Salt Lake City, I didn't have a concern about how the flight would have concluded because I know flying is safe.

I think it is good to inform the public particularly those who are nervous fliers that flying is the safest mode of mass transportation and every air crash and incident is investigated so crashes become more rare and flying becomes even safer.

Kinbin (Taipei, Taiwan):

On the note of flying, one observes that, through evolution, homo-sapiens were not meant to fly.

However, through their ingenuity, they made mechanical machines to leverage on the laws of this physical world to defy gravity, as illustrated by Messrs' Navier and Stokes.

That said, each and every person in this industry of 'defying gravity' has this social responsibility to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our fellow mankind to do our utmost to ensure that the systems, and processes are robust.

When mishaps and disasters take place, collectively, we need to take stock, and solemnly remind ourselves of the heavy responsibilities that we shoulder in this industry, and seek for improvements to make aircraft safer and better, as researchers continue to push the envelops of "defying gravity".

Naturally flying homo-sapiens remain a distant dream.

Roger J. Wallace (Long Beach, California):

Almost every accident/incident that I have researched in my 59 year career in aviation maintenance was caused by people. Inattention to details, inadequate instructions, errors in work instruction records, being in a hurry, training deficiencies and carelessness.

Very seldom is the root cause an engineering deficiency. If it ain't right, if it looks strange, if it sounds different, if the procedure isn't correct investigate and report it. Someone once summed it up pretty well by saying "If you're not part of the solution, you may be part of the problem.

Tom (St. Louis, MO):

It would be interesting to see if the up tick in hull loss is due simply because the effected planes were much older, thus not worth fixing, or actually a large amount of damage. A better metric might be what the cost to fix these planes would be.

Barun Majumdar (Seattle, WA, USA):

We should never tend to forget that safety and performance are inter-linked. If the level of performance is qualitatively improved by incorporating an innovative design, then, of course, safety is improved qualitatively as well.

Acknowledging and implementing this very basic concept whenever feasible is very important at this critical juncture.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

I think the 747-400 and the 737NG as two of Boeing's earliest glass-cockpit/EFIS developments clearly demonstrate the value of lighter workload cockpits over the preceding generations of airplanes. I like using the 747 and 737 for these measures because the two clearly demonstrate powerful revolutionary/evolutionary positive change in the industry.

Increasingly automated cockpits have seen impressive gains in operational safety and awareness. Electronic moving airport maps and EFB's increase situational awareness and greatly reduce pilot workload.

Still, you'll always need overwatch by great bodies like CAST. Most accidents are the direct result of a human failure of some sort. Technical failures happen when people fail to act for some or other reason. Unfortunately, the space program has had to learn that lesson twice in recent decades.

Phil (Wokingham, Berkshire UK):

An interesting statistical compilation, whilst one could trawl the net to eternity to get the similar statistics for those with an interest (Not Morbid) in such information this makes an excellent reference, so I say thank you.

The data procured specifically applies to western designed airframes & whilst accepting that precise statistics on incidents occuring from airframe designs out of China, Russia & the Eastern block can often be suspect, irrespective of this fact it would perhaps complete the statistics if this data were also included.

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