World's safest airlines: The airlines that have never had a single plane crash

While any plane crash in the modern age may feel like a freak occurrence, there's no escaping the fact that some airlines are safer than others.

That much is made by clear by the existence of an EU "blacklist" of carriers banned from flying above European airspace (don't worry, they are all very obscure), but a more thorough look at the incident logs of some of the world's oldest airlines reveals that some are so safe they've never - or almost never - had a fatal crash.

Here we round up some of the better-known airlines with a spotless safety record in the jet era. Scroll down for a full list of carriers never to have had a fatal accident.

The list no longer includes Southwest. Last year, in April, an incident on one of its aircraft - in which a woman died after a window was smashed by an engine part - put a rare blot on its otherwise clean safety record. Though not a crash, it was the first in-flight fatality for the American airline, which has been flying since 1971. 

A close look at nine major airlines

Qantas

Flying since 1921

<i>Qantas: No fatal accidents in the jet age.</i>

Qantas: No fatal accidents in the jet age.

The third oldest airline in the world, Qantas was cited in 1988 film Rain Man as an airline to have never had an aircraft crash. "Qantas. Qantas never crashed," says Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman. And while this fits the bill as far as the Australian airline's outstanding reputation for safety is concerned, it is not strictly true. The airline has had eight fatal accidents, all before 1951, with four taking place during the Second World War while Qantas was operating planes on behalf of the Allies. Indeed, one aircraft was shot down.

In 1951, a de Havilland Australia DHA-3 Drover crashed off the coast of New Guinea after the centre engine's propeller failed. The pilot and all six passengers were killed.

Qantas has not had a fatal accident in the jet age, however, and only a handful incidents of note.

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Hawaiian Airlines

Flying since 1929

<i>Hawaiian Airlines</i>

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian has been flying planes since 1929 and never once had a fatal accident, making it, if our stats stand up, the longest functioning carrier to have never lost a passenger. It may have suffered two bankruptcies (1993 and 2003) but it has not compromised on safety. The airline began life flying light aircraft on sightseeing flights over O'ahu and today serves a number of Pacific destinations, including New Zealand, Australia, Asia and the US West Coast.

EasyJet

Flying since 1995

EasyJet has never had an accident. In fact, its history is so incident-free, it's difficult to find any serious issues to have befallen one of its flights.

Ryanair

Flying since 1985

In 33 years of flying, the closest the carrier has come to a serious accident was in 2008 when an aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in Rome after experiencing multiple bird strikes to the nose, wings and engines. It is believed the aircraft hit some 90 starlings. On landing, the left hand landing wheel collapsed and the plane made contact with the runway. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and two crew and eight passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Virgin Atlantic/Australia/America

Flying since 1984/2000/2007

<i>Virgin: Remarkable</i>

Virgin: Remarkable

Virgin-branded airlines have a remarkable safety record, with decades of accident-free travel between three carriers across many continents. Both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia rank in the top 20 safest airlines in the world according to website AirlineRatings.com.

British Airways

Flying since 1974

British Airways has only had one fatal accident while operating in its current form: the mid-air collision of its Trident 3B with the aircraft of a Slovenian airline in the skies above the Croatian city of Zagreb. However, in 1985, under the moniker of BA's British Airtours subsidiary, a 737 crashed after taking off from Manchester Airport because of an engine failure, sparking a fire that spread through the cabin killing 53 of the 131 passengers and two of the six crew members.

Since 1985, BA has never had a fatal accident, the closest call coming in 2008, when First Officer John Coward earned his place in the aviation Hall of Fame by landing a plane without any power. Read the full story here.

BA ranks among the world's top 20 safest airlines according to AirlineRatings. British European Airways, founded in 1946 but merged with British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1974 to create British Airways, suffered a number of fatal accidents.

Emirates

<i>The three key Middle Eastern airlines have never had fatal accidents.</i>

The three key Middle Eastern airlines have never had fatal accidents.

Flying since 1985

The Dubai-based airline, now operating more than 3,600 flights a week, has never had a fatal accident, and only suffered one hull loss (the write-off of an aircraft), when a Boeing 777 crash-landed at Dubai International. The plane caught fire and exploded on the runway after the majority of passengers had evacuated. However, a firefighter was killed in the blaze.

Etihad

Flying since 2003

Another Middle Eastern carrier with an impeccable safety record, its only incident being a rather bizarre situation in which an aircraft undergoing ground testing at Toulouse Airport in France accelerated to 35mph before hitting a concrete wall, injuring nine people on board, four seriously.

Qatar Airways

Flying since 2004

In a similar scenario, the accidents to befall Qatar Airways aircrafts were two fires, one in 2007 and one in 2017, where planes were written off while on the ground, the former in a hangar in Abu Dhabi, the latter at Hamad International in Doha. Otherwise, Qatar has a squeaky clean safety record.

So which airlines have never crashed?

According to Plane Crash Info, there are 42 airlines to have never suffered a fatal accident in their history, including pre-jet engines. However, for some reason the website's list does not include Etihad. Nor does it include Qantas, because of the airline's earlier crashes. The full list is below.

Air Berlin

Air Europa

AirTran Airways

Allegiant Airways

Cape Air

Chautauqua Airlines

CommutAir

DragonAir

EasyJet

Emirates

Era Alaska

Expressjet Airlines

Frontier Airlines

GoJet Airlines

Hainan Group

Hawaiian Airlines

Horizon Air

Jazz Air

Jet Airways

JetBlue

Jetstar

Mesa Airlines

Olympic Airways

Oman Airways

Pinnacle Airlines

Qatar Airways

Republic Airlines

Ryanair

Shenzhen Airlines

Shuttle America

Spirit Airlines

Swiss

Trans State Airlines

Transaero Airlines

Ukraine International Airlines

Vietnam Airlines

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin America

Virgin Australia

Vueling

Westjet

And which are the world's safest?

<i>Air New Zealand Dreamliner 787-9</i>

Air New Zealand Dreamliner 787-9 Photo: AP

The website AirlineRatings.com assessed 409 major airlines before delivering its verdict on the safest airlines for 2018, taking into account previous incidents, the average age of their fleets, and audits from governments and the aviation industry's regulatory bodies.

For the last four years it has singled out Qantas as the world's safest airline, ahead of a chasing pack of 19 rivals, but this year it listed the Australian flag carrier alongside the rest of the top 20.

The 20 safest airlines (in alphabetical order)

Air New Zealand

Alaska Airlines

All Nippon Airways

British Airways

Cathay Pacific Airways

Emirates

Etihad Airways

EVA Air

Finnair

Hawaiian Airlines

Japan Airlines

KLM

Lufthansa

Qantas

Royal Jordanian Airlines

Scandinavian Airline System

Singapore Airlines

Swiss

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Australia

Does fleet age have anything to do with it?

Not according to Patrick Smith, a US pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential.

"Commercial aircraft are built to last more or less indefinitely, which is one of the reasons why they're so expensive," he said. "It's common for a jet to remain in service for 25 years or more."

Smith claims that as planes get older they come under ever greater scrutiny. "Inspection criteria grow increasingly strict," he said.

So if planes are built to last more or less indefinitely, why are they retired after just 30-odd years – or in many cases sooner?

"Planes are sold, traded or mothballed not because they've grown old and are falling apart, but because they've become uneconomical to operate," said Smith.

"Aircraft are tailored to particular roles and markets, and there's a fragile balance between whether it makes or loses money. Poor performance means quick exit to the sales block. To another carrier with different costs, routes and needs, that same aircraft might be profitable."

How safe was 2018?

2017 was - by some distance - the safest year in aviation history. According to ASN there were just 14 fatal accidents involving commercial airliners (14+ passengers), resulting in 59 deaths. This was down from 17 fatal accidents and 258 deaths in 2016. Furthermore, none of those fatalities involved a jet aircraft.

Last year, however, there were several major accidents. On February 11, Saratov Airlines Flight 703 crashed after leaving Moscow with all 71 on board perishing. One week later 66 people died when Iran Aseman Airlines Flight 3704 went down near the city of Yasul. US-Bangla Airlines Flight 211 crashed near Kathmandu on March 12, resulting in 51 deaths. There was also a harrowing incident on a Southwest flight, where a window was smashed and a female passenger killed. And in May 112 people died when Cubana de Aviación Flight 972 crashed near Havana.

ASN's database shows 561 deaths involving commercial flights in 2018, almost 10 times more than the whole of 2017, making it the deadliest year for aviation since 2014, with 555 deaths.

But this is still way down on the number of annual fatalities seen in previous decades. More than 1,000 deaths per calendar year was commonplace until just over a decade ago. In 2005 there were 1,075. The figure for 1996 was 1,844. The deadliest year of all time was 1972, when 2,380 people died in 72 accidents involving commercial airliners – a number that is all the more remarkable when you consider how few departures there were compared with today (around 9.5 million, compared with almost 37 million in 2017).

Modern air travel remains remarkably safe. Over the past five years, the fatal accident rate has ranged from around one for every 7.5 million departures (2017) to one for every 1.5 million departures (2013).

"[2017] was effectively a lovely statistical blip," said David Gleave following the Cubana crash last May. "We are a long way from having solved all the problems [with flying], but it is getting safer and there remains a downward trend in the per flight probability [of a crash]."

The Telegraph, London

See also: World's safest, and least safe, airlines named in new rankings

See also: Is the 737 MAX safe – and which airlines are still flying it?

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