Any time there is a serious airline accident, it’s hard for many folks not to get carried away with aviation safety hysteria. In the last 14 months, and after the 3 tragic air disasters of 2014, that hysteria is happening again. But it’s also a good time to take a hard look at real data to determine the true story of aviation safety. AirlineRatings.com recently evaluated 449 different airlines based on seven different safety criteria, and the results may surprise you.
So what are the safest airlines in the world? Before we share the results, let’s go over what makes an airline safe or unsafe according to the Airlineratings.com system. It uses a seven-star model that doles out each star based on the following seven criteria.
How the Airlines are Rated
1. If the airline has an International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit certification (IOSA), it earns two stars. Why might an airline not have the IOSA Certification? This certificate is actually difficult to get, so either the airline didn’t sign up to be assessed (which is a little suspicious) or they have failed. The International Air Transport Association awards this certificate biannually to the airlines that meet its standards of operational management and control systems. The IOSA certificate is worth two stars—double some of the other criteria—because the IOSA certificate is a pretty good indicator of an airline’s safety rating. Consider this: Airlines with an IOSA certificate had 77 percent less accidents than those without one in 2012.
2. If the airline is not on the European Union (EU) Blacklist, it receives one star. The EU Blacklist bans certain airlines that they find unsafe from flying in European airspace. The EU decides which airlines are unsafe by frequently evaluating airlines all over the world and banning those for reasons such as regulatory oversight or irregular or ineffective aircraft maintenance. This list doesn’t factor in fatalities or the safety record (so, for example, Malaysian Airlines is free to fly in Europe). For the EU’s full list, click here.
3. If the airline hasn’t had one fatality in the past ten years, it receives one star. This includes passengers or crew and the fatality must be due to an accident, which does not include any fatalities due to terrorism or fatalities due to something out of their control (an unidentified object obstructing the runway, etc.).
4. If the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has endorsed an airline, it receives one star. The FAA has a blacklist of sorts as well, but its list bans certain countries, not specific airlines, from entering U.S. airspace. This ban may be implemented due to a failure to meet international aviation standards for operations and maintenance (so, the criteria is somewhat similar to the EU list).
5. If the country of airline origin has met all eight of the International Civil Aviation Organization (IACO) safety parameters, it receives two stars. They can receive partial credit here—if they meet at least five, they get one star. The eight parameters include Airworthiness, Accident Investigation, Air Navigation Service, Aerodromes, Legislation, Operations, Licensing, and Organization.
There are two exceptions that may cause an airline to lose a star, which are:
- If the airline operates only Russian-built aircraft.
- If the country of origin has grounded an airline’s fleet due to safety concerns in the last five years.
The Airline Ratings
Let’s start with the best of the best. Out of 449 airlines, 149 scored the highest safety rating (seven out of seven stars). Here are the top ten, each with a seven out of seven rating. Qantas got the top spot, and the rest are listed in alphabetical order.
- Air New Zealand
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific Airways
- Etihad Airways
- EVA Air
- Singapore Airlines
What has Qantas done to snag this top spot? Airlineratings.com says the Australian airline has made the most efforts to increase the safety of its passengers, such as implementing real time monitoring of its engines, advancing automatic landing technology, and using a data recording system to monitor both crew and plane performance.
It’s also important to note that, despite the fact that no U.S. airlines made the top ten, the major U.S. airlines did pretty well overall. Here’s the breakdown:
- Alaska Airlines: 7
- Allegiant Airlines: 5 (no IOSA certificate)
- American: 7
- American Eagle: 7
- Delta: 7
- Frontier: 5 (no IOSA certificate)
- JetBlue: 7
- Hawaiian Airlines: 7
- Southwest: 5 (no IOSA certificate)
- Spirit Airlines: 5 (no IOSA certificate)
- Sun Country: 7
- United Airlines: 7
- US Airways: 7
- Virgin America: 7
AirlineRatings.com has also released a list of the top ten safest low-cost carriers. Here’s that list in alphabetical order (all of these are rated seven out of seven as well unless otherwise noted):
- Aer Lingus
- Alaska Airlines
- Kulula (six stars)
- Monarch Airlines (five stars)
- Thomas Cook
- TUI Fly
Now for the bad news: Almost 50 airlines earned a rating of three stars or less, and four airlines only received one star ratings.
Bolded airlines listed below have been fatality-free for the past ten years (this includes airlines that have been in existence for less than ten years).
The one-star rating airlines are as follows: Kam Air, Nepal Airlines, Scat, and Tara Air. Each of these airlines earned their only star from FAA approval of their country of origin.
Here are the airlines that received two stars: Ariana Afghan Airlines, Blue Wing, Daallo Airlines, Merpati Airlines, Susi Air, Trigana Air, and Yeti Airlines.
Here are the airlines that received three stars: Air Bagan, Air India Express, Air Nauru, AirAsia Malaysia, AirAsia Zest, Airlines PNG, ASKY Airlines, Avia Traffic Company, Camair-Co, Cambodia Angkor Air, Citilink, Drukair Royal Bhutan, FastJet, Felix Airways, fly540, Iraqi Airways, Jetstar Pacific, LAM, Lao Airlines, Lion Air, Maldivian, Maldivian Air Taxi, Mega Maldives, Moldavian Airlines, Polynesian Airlines, Rwand Air, Somon Air, Sriwijaya Air, Tajik Air, Trans Maldivian Airways, VietJet Air, Wings Air, Xpress Air, and Zambezi Helicopter Co.
Now for the interesting part. Neither Malaysia Airlines nor AirAsia Indonesia (the branch of the AirAsia fleet that recently crashed) are on the lowest-rated lists. Malaysia Airlines actually ended up with a five out of seven star rating (they lost one star for fatalities and another star for receiving seven out of eight IACO parameters, something that happened with six-star rated Air Australia and Caribbean Airlines as well). AirAsia Indonesia earned a four-star rating (they lost one star for fatalities and two stars for not having an IOSA certificate—but, hey, even Southwest doesn’t have one). For a total breakdown of each airline, click here.
For more information about airlines and flight safety, check out:
- What Does AirAsia Flight 8501 Mean for Travel Safety?
- Do You Know the Most Dangerous Airports in the US?
- Flight Anxiety After 2014 Air Disasters: One Pilot’s Opinion
By Brittany Malooly for PeterGreenberg.com