Four airline incidents in which more than 600 people died made 2014 one of the worst years for Asian aviation even before the disappearance of AirAsia Bhd. (AIRA) QZ8501.
The unresolved disappearance of Malaysian Airline System Bhd. flight MH370 over the Indian Ocean, the downing of Malaysian Air flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, the crash of a TransAsia Airways Corp. plane as it prepared to land on Taiwan’s Penghu Islands, and an August wreck in Iran have marked a tragic year for Asia’s booming aviation industry.
"It has affected many Asian airlines,” said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation research firm Endau Analystics. "The danger is that Malaysia has been seen as a country that produces unsafe airlines, which is not the case at all. It’s just unfortunate that three aircraft have been lost and they all belong to Malaysian carriers. I don’t think it’s a reflection of those airlines’ safety.”
This year may end up being the worst for passenger fatalities globally since 2005, when 916 lives were lost, according to air-safety consultants Ascend Worldwide. The missing AirAsia plane carried 155 passengers and seven crew members on a flight to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia.
Flight 370 vanished from radar screens enroute to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew and traveled thousands of miles off course into open ocean, according to satellite data. No trace of the plane has been found, making it the longest disappearance in modern commercial aviation.
MH17 was shot down in Ukraine in July, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members. The TransAsia crash killed 44 passengers, also in July. In Iran, a domestically assembled turboprop crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 39 out of 50 people on board in August.
"2014 certainly has been a rough year for airlines,” said Mark D. Martin, CEO of Dubai-based Martin Consulting LLC. "An adverse incident and event affecting the safe operation of aircraft can strike almost anywhere at anytime and for this very reason, the aviation industry each year spends nearly $6 billion dollars to ensure pre-emptive actions are created and aircraft fly safer.”
About 100,000 flights a day land without incident worldwide, according to the International Air Transport Association. In 2013, more than 3 billion people flew and there were 210 fatalities.
Air travel remains "one of the safest modes of transport” compared to others, Yusof said.
"One of the things we can see, especially out of Indonesia, is that they have made tremendous progress in improving their safety records,” he said.
The surge in fatal accidents out of Asia this year is unlikely to dampen the growth of low-cost airlines in Southeast Asia and won’t affect AirAsia’s expansion plans, he said.
"We believe that 2015 will see increased pressure on airlines from insurers, leasing companies, safety compliance authorities and the traveler as there still are questions needed to be answered and confidence requiring to be built,” Martin said.