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An aviation accident is defined by the Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 13 as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked, where a person is fatally or seriously injured, the aircraft sustains damage or structural failure or the aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible.
The first fatal aviation accident occurred in a Wright Model A aircraft at Fort Myer, Virginia, USA, on 17 September 1908, resulting in injury to the pilot, Orville Wright and death of the passenger, Signal Corps Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge.
An aviation incident is defined as an occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of operations.
The deadliest aviation-related disaster of any kind, considering fatalities on both the aircraft and the ground, was the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001. On that morning four aircraft traveling from East Coast airports to California were hijacked by nineteen terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda, with the intentional crashing of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both buildings in less than two hours. The World Trade Center crashes killed 2,752, the vast majority of them occupants of the World Trade Center towers or emergency personnel responding to the disaster. In addition, 184 were killed by American Airlines Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon, causing severe damage to the building's west side, and 40 were killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field, (after passengers fought back against the hijackers). This brought the total number of casualties of the September 11 attacks to 2,977 (excluding the 19 terrorist hijackers).
As deliberate terrorist acts, the 9/11 crashes were not classified as accidents, but as mass murder-suicide; these events were subsequently treated by the United States and the member states of NATO as an act of war and terrorism.
The Tenerife disaster, which happened on 27 March 1977, remains the accident with the highest number of airliner passenger fatalities. 583 people died when a KLM Boeing 747 attempted to take-off without clearance, and collided with a taxiing Pan Am 747 at Los Rodeos Airport on the island of Tenerife, Spain. Both aircraft were destroyed. There were no survivors from the KLM aircraft; 61 of the 396 passengers and crew on the Pan Am aircraft survived. Pilot error was the primary cause as the KLM captain thought he had clearance for takeoff due to a communication misunderstanding. Another cause was dense fog meaning the KLM flight crew was unable to see the Pan Am aircraft on the runway until immediately prior to the collision. The accident had a lasting influence on the industry, particularly in the area of communication. An increased emphasis was placed on using standardized phraseology in ATC communication by both controllers and pilots alike, thereby reducing the chance for misunderstandings. As part of these changes, the word "takeoff" was removed from general usage, and is only spoken by ATC when actually clearing an aircraft to take off.
The crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, on August 12, 1985 is the single-aircraft disaster with the highest number of fatalities: 520 died on board a Boeing 747. The aircraft suffered an explosive decompression from an incorrectly repaired aft pressure bulkhead, which failed in mid flight, destroying most of its vertical stabilizer, severing all of the hydraulic lines, making the 747 virtually uncontrollable. Pilots were able to keep the plane flying for 20 minutes after departure before crashing into a mountain. Remarkably, several people survived, but by the time the Japanese rescue teams arrived at the crash site, all but four had succumbed to their injuries.
On 1 June 2009 Air France Flight 447 was a scheduled international flight from Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France when the Airbus A330-203 airliner serving the flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of all 216 passengers and 12 aircrew. The accident was the deadliest in the history of Air France. It was also the Airbus A330's second and deadliest fatal accident, and its first while in commercial passenger service.
On 12 November 2001, American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300, crashed in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, New York, just after departing John F. Kennedy International Airport bound for Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo. The first officer's overuse of the rudder in response to wake turbulence from a Japan Airlines 747 was cited as cause. The crash killed all 260 people on board, as well as five people on the ground. It is the second-deadliest aviation accident on U.S. soil, after American Airlines Flight 191.
On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590—a Concorde—crashed, resulting in the death of 109 people on board as well as four on the ground. Although Concorde jets had a very good safety record with no previous crashes, this event was the beginning of the end for the aircraft; the high-prestige supersonic plane was retired from service by both British Airways and Air France in 2003. The official finding traced the cause of the fuel tank rupture to the plane's impact with an aircraft part on the runway that had fallen off a previously departed airliner. According to the documentary "Counterfeit culture", the crash in part was due to the use of a counterfeit component on that aircraft.
On 31 October 1999, around 01:50 EST, in international waters, EgyptAir Flight 990 (MSR990) crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. The National Transportation Safety Board report concluded the First Officer intentionally dove the aircraft into the ocean; Egyptian authorities have vigorously denied this conclusion saying a mechanical failure was to blame.
On 2 September 1998, Swissair Flight 111 crashed into St. Margaret's Bay, nearby Halifax, Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board. Fire had broken out in the cockpit; the plane disintegrated upon impact with the water.
12 November 1996, The world's deadliest mid-air collision was the 1996 Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision involving Saudia Flight 763 and Air Kazakhstan Flight 1907 over Haryana, India. The crash was mainly the result of the Kazakh pilot flying lower than the assigned clearance altitude. All 349 passengers and crew on board the two aircraft died. The Ramesh Chandra Lahoti Commission, empowered to study the causes, recommended the creation of "air corridors" to prevent aircraft from flying in opposite directions at the same altitude. The Civil Aviation Authorities in India made it mandatory for all aircraft flying in and out of India to be equipped with an Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), setting a world wide precedent for mandatory use of TCAS.
On 17 July 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York 12 minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 people on board.
On 26 May 1991, shortly after take-off from Bangkok, Lauda Air Flight 004, a Boeing 767-3Z9ER named "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," crashed in Thailand. The un-commanded deployment of one of the thrust reversers caused the loss of all 223 passengers, and crew, aboard the 767.
On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 747–121 bound for New York-JFK from London-Heathrow with continued service to Detroit was destroyed by a terrorist bomb over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The crash killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew, and 11 people on the ground (all residents of Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie), making it the worst terrorist attack involving an aircraft in the UK. This remains the deadliest terrorist attack on British soil. Following the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration imposed new security measures on American airlines flying out of 103 airports in Western Europe and the Middle East.
On 3 July 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was an Iranian civilian airliner shot down by two surface-to-air missiles from the U.S. Navy's guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, ranking it seventh among the deadliest airline disasters.
On 23 June 1985, Air India Flight 182 Boeing 747-237B crashed off the southwest coast of Ireland when a bomb exploded in the cargo hold. All 307 passengers and 22 crew members died. One passenger had checked in as "M. Singh". Singh did not board the flight, however, his suitcase containing the bomb was loaded onto the plane. "Mr Singh" was never identified and captured. It was later determined Sikh extremists were behind the bombing as a retaliation for the Indian government's attack on the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, which is very important for the Sikhs. This was, at the time, the deadliest terrorist attack involving an airplane.
On 12 December 1985, a Douglas DC-8, Arrow Air Flight 1285, carrying American military personnel on a charter flight home for Christmas, crashed in Newfoundland, killing all 248 passengers and 8 crew members. The Canadian Aviation Safety Board investigating the cause of the crash issued two different reports: The majority report cited ice on the wings as cause of the crash; the minority report suggests an explosion was the likely cause. This crash remains the worst air disaster in both US military and Canadian aviation history.
On 19 August 1980, Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163, a Lockheed L-1011 became the world's deadliest aviation accident that did not involve a crash. The crew performed a successful emergency landing after a fire broke out in the rear cargo hold. However the aircraft was not evacuated and all 301 passengers and crew died in the fire.
On 25 May 1979, American Airlines Flight 191, following improper maintenance and the loss of an engine, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, lost control and crashed near O'Hare International Airport in Des Plaines, Illinois. The crash killed all 271 passengers and crew on board, as well as two people on the ground. It remains the deadliest commercial aircraft accident in the United States history, and was also the country's deadliest aviation disaster until the September 11 attacks in 2001.
On 3 March 1974, Turkish Airlines Flight 981, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, crashed in a forest northeast of Paris, France. The London-bound plane crashed shortly after taking off from Orly airport; all 346 people on board died. It was later determined that the cargo door detached, which caused an explosive decompression; this caused the floor just above to collapse. The collapsed floor severed the control cables, which left the pilots without control of the elevators, the rudder and No. 2 engine. The plane entered a steep dive and crashed. It was the deadliest plane crash of all time until the Tenerife disaster in 1977.
In over one hundred years of implementation, aviation safety has improved considerably. In modern times, two major manufacturers still produce heavy passenger aircraft for the civilian market: Boeing in the United States of America, and the European company Airbus. Both place huge emphasis on the use of aviation safety equipment, now a billion-dollar industry in its own right; for each, safety is a major selling point—realizing that a poor safety record in the aviation industry is a threat to corporate survival. Some major safety devices now required in commercial aircraft involve:
Measured on a passenger-distance calculation, air travel is the safest form of transportation available: Figures mentioned are the ones shared by the air industry when quoting air safety statistics. A typical statement, e.g., by the BBC: "UK airline operations are among the safest anywhere. When compared to all other modes of transport, on a "fatality per mile basis", air transport is the safest — six times safer than traveling by car; twice as safe as rail."
However, when measured by fatalities per person transported, buses are the safest form of transportation. The number of air travel fatalities per person is surpassed only by bicycles and motorcycles. This statistic is used by the insurance industry when calculating insurance rates for air travel.
Per every billion kilometers traveled, trains have a fatality rate 12 times over air travel; by comparison, fatality rates for automobiles are 62 times greater than air travel. By contrast, for every billion journeys, buses are the safest form of transportation. By the last measure, air transportation is three times more dangerous than car transportation, and almost 30 times more dangerous than bus.
A 2007 study by Popular Mechanics found passengers sitting at the back of a plane are 40% more likely to survive a crash than those sitting in the front. Although this article quotes Boeing, the FAA and a website on aircraft safety, all claim there is no "safest" seat. The article studied 20 crashes, not taking into account the developments in safety after those accidents. However, a flight data recorder is usually mounted in the aircraft's empennage (tail section), where it is more likely to survive a severe crash.
Over 95% of people in U.S. plane crashes, between 1983 and 2000, survived.
The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) collects voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident/situation reports from pilots, controllers and others. The ASRS uses reports to identify system deficiencies, issue alert messages, and produce two publication, CALLBACK, and ASRS Directline. The collected information is made available to the public, and is used by the FAA, NASA and other organizations working in research and flight safety.
The Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO), a non-government organization based in Geneva, compiles statistics on aviation accidents of aircraft capable of carrying more than six passengers, excluding helicopters, balloons, or combat aircraft. In 2008, ACRO announced that, in terms of number of accidents, 2007 was the safest year in aviation since 1963.
Compared to 164 events in 2006, there were 136 registered accidents, resulting in a total of 965 deaths (this is compared to 1,293 in 2006). Since then, both 2009 (122) and 2010 (130) saw fewer registered accidents. The lowest number of fatalities (771) since the end of World War II, was in 2004. The year with most fatalities was 2001, with 4,140 deaths (mainly due to the September 11 attacks). Those numbers may be less than the total aircraft accidents fatalities as ACRO only considers accidents in which the aircraft has suffered such damage that it is removed from service.
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The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is tasked by Article 15(4) of Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008 to provide an annual review of aviation safety.
The Annual Safety Review presents statistics on European and worldwide civil aviation safety. Statistics are grouped according to type of operation, for instance, commercial air transport, and aircraft category, such as aeroplanes, helicopters, gliders, etc. The Agency has access to accident and statistical information collected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). States are required, according to ICAO Annex 13, on Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, to report to ICAO information, on accidents and serious incidents to aircraft with a maximum certificated take-off mass (MTOM) over 2250 kg. Therefore, most statistics in this review concern aircraft above this mass. In addition to the ICAO data, a request was made to the EASA Member States to obtain light aircraft accident data. Furthermore, data on the operation of aircraft for commercial air transport was obtained from both ICAO and the NLR Air Transport Safety Institute.
Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention provides the international Standards And Recommended Practices that form the basis for air accident and incident investigations by signatory countries, as well as reporting and preventative measures. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is specifically focused on preventing accidents, rather than determining liability.
Within Australia, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is the federal government body responsible for investigating transport-related accidents and incidents, covering air, sea, and rail travel. Formerly an agency of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, in 2010, in the interests of keeping its independence it became a stand alone agency.
In Brazil, the Aeronautical Accidents Investigation and Prevention Center (CENIPA) was established under the auspices of the Aeronautical Accident Investigation and Prevention Center, a Military Organization of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB). The organization is responsible for the activities of aircraft accident prevention, and investigation of civil and military aviation occurrences. Formed in 1971, and in accordance with international standards, CENIPA represented a new philosophy: investigations are conducted with the sole purpose of promoting the "prevention of aeronautical accidents".
In Canada, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB/BST), is an independent agency responsible for the advancement of transportation safety through the investigation and reporting of accident and incident occurrences in all prevalent Canadian modes of transportation — marine, air, rail and pipeline.
In France, the agency responsible for investigation of civilian air crashes is the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA). Its purpose is to establish the circumstances and causes of the accident and to make recommendations for their future avoidance.
In Germany, the agency for investigating air crashes is the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation (BFU). It is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development. The focus of the BFU is to improve safety by determining the causes of accidents and serious incidents and making safety recommendations to prevent recurrence.
Created in 1999 in Italy, the Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo (ANSV), has two main tasks: conducting technical investigations for civil aviation aircraft accidents and incidents, while issuing safety recommendations as appropriate; and conducting studies and surveys aimed at increasing flight safety. The organization is also responsible for establishing and maintaining the “voluntary reporting system.” Although not under the supervision of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, the ANSV is a public authority under the oversight of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of Italy.
In New Zealand, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC), is responsible for the investigation of air accidents. "The Commission‟s purpose, as set out in its Act, is to determine the circumstances and causes of aviation, rail and maritime accidents, and incidents, with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame to any person." The TAIC will investigate in accordance with annex 13 of the ICAO
In Russia, the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC, MAK according to the original Russian name) is an executive body overseeing the use and management of civil aviation in the Commonwealth of Independent States. This Organization investigates air accidents in the former USSR area under the umbrella of the Air Accident Investigation Commission of the Interstate Aviation Committee.
In the United Kingdom, the agency responsible for investigation of civilian air crashes is the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the Department for Transport. Its purpose is to establish the circumstances and causes of the accident and to make recommendations for their future avoidance.
United States civil aviation incidents are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). NTSB officials piece together evidence from the crash site to determine likely cause, or causes. The NTSB also investigates oversea incidents involving US-registered aircraft, in collaboration with local investigative authorities, especially when there is significant loss of American lives, or when the involved aircraft is American built.
It is common for an airline to cease using the flight number of a fatal crash, although that is not always the case. For example: Japan Airlines 123, American Airlines Flight 1, 11, and 77, Aeroflot Flight 593, Aero Flight 311, Iran Air Flight 655, United Airlines Flights numbered 608, 624, 823, 175, and 93, Aer Lingus Flight 712 and Malaysia Airlines MH-370.
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