Published on January 6th, 2017 | by Jim Lee


Preliminary ASN data show 2016 to be one of the safest years in aviation history

On 29th December, the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), released preliminary 2016 airliner accident statistics, which showed a total of 19 fatal airliner accidents, resulting in 325 fatalities. The statistics are based on all worldwide fatal accidents involving civil aircraft, with a minimum capacity of 14 passengers, as published in the ASN Safety Database. Consequently, the accident involving a Russian Air Force Tupolev 154B-2, RA-85572, on 25th December, is not included.

Despite several high profile accidents, the year 2016 turned out to be a very safe year for commercial aviation, ASN’s data shows. This makes 2016 the second safest year ever, both by number of fatal accidents, as well as in terms of fatalities. In 2015 ASN recorded 16 accidents (resulting in 560 fatalities); while in 2013 a total of 265 lives were lost.

The ASN is an independent organisation located in the Netherlands. Founded in 1996, its aim is to provide everyone with a (professional) interest in aviation with up-to-date, complete and reliable authoritative information on airliner accidents and safety issues. Their latest incident reports can be found here.

Most accidents involved passenger flights (a total of 11 of the 19). Given the expected worldwide air traffic of about 35 million flights, the accident rate is one fatal passenger flight accident, per 3,200,000 flights.

The low number of accidents comes as no surprise, according to ASN President Harro Ranter: “Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organisations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry.” 

A look at the accidents in 2016

The worst accident last year, happened on 28th November, when a LaMia Bolivia Avro RJ85, CP-2933, crashed near Medellín, Colombia as a result of fuel exhaustion, killing 71. One flight attendant and four passengers survived with serious injuries, and one passenger sustained minor injuries. The aircraft carried the Brazilian Chapecoense football team for a match to Medellin and a refuelling stop was planned at Cobija, in northern Bolivia. LaMia requested a permit to fly from the Brazilian aviation authorities, ANAC, but this was reportedly denied, as there were no provisions in the current aviation agreements between Brazil and Bolivia, to allow such a commercial flight.

The Chapecoense team was then flown to Santa Cruz in Bolivia on a regular commercial flight. This routing caused delays to the schedule and Cobija could no longer be used to refuel because of night time closure of the airport, according to the LaMia’s general director. The flight crew calculated the take-off weight to be 41,610 kgs, which was just below the maximum take-off weight of 41,800 kgs; however, Investigators believe the luggage weight was underestimated, and that the actual take-off weight was 42,148 kgs.

A preliminary report released by Colombia’s GRIAA, noted that the aircraft had positioned from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz to pick up the team. The captain (36, ATPL, 6,692 hours total, 3,417 hours on type) occupied the left hand seat, the first officer (47, ATPL, 6,923 hours total, 1,474 hours on type) occupied the right hand seat, and a private pilot occupied the observer’s seat. In addition, there were two cabin crew, 72 passengers (including an engineer and a dispatcher from the operator) taken on board in Santa Cruz. According to witness information, the aircraft departed Santa Cruz with the maximum fuel load of 9,300kg possible.

The report states that during the cruise, the CVR recorded various crew conversations, about the fuel state of the aircraft, and they could be heard carrying out fuel calculations. At 00:42:18 hrs, one of the pilots could be heard to say that they would divert to Bogota to refuel, but at 00:52:24hrs a further conversation took place, shortly after the aircraft was transferred to Colombian ATC, with the crew deciding to continue to Medellín. At 01:03:01hrs the crew began their brief for the approach to Rionegro/Medellín-José María Córdova Airport.

The 17 year old aircraft had completed 21,640 hours and 19,737 cycles and first flew on 26th March 1999. It was delivered to Mesaba Aviation, Inc. (operating as Mesaba Airlines), in the United States, as N523XJ, on 30th March 1999. It was part of the fleet of Avro RJ85s acquired by CityJet and was delivered as EI-RJK, in September 2007. It remained registered to CityJet for the next six years, before being transferred to LaMia, as P4-LOR, in October 2013. It was re-registered as YV2768 on 8th February 2014, before being transferred to LaMia Bolivia as CP-2933, on 2nd January 2015

The number of accidents recorded in 2016 included two likely cases of terrorism. While investigation is still ongoing, the Egyptian authorities stated that they found traces of explosives, after the accident of an EgyptAir Airbus A320-232, SU-GCC that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on 19th May. Earlier, on 2nd February, one passenger was killed when a bomb detonated in the cabin of a Hermes Airlines, Airbus A321-111, SX-BHS that had just departed from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Looking at the rest of the incidents, five involved Cessna 208B Grand Caravans (XA-ULU, B-10FW, N752RV, HK-3804 and N208SD), two were Swearingen SA227 Metros (N577MX and N765FA) and three were Russian built aircraft, an Antonov 26B (S2-AGZ), an Antonov 12B (4K-AZ25) and an Ilyushin 76TD (RA-76840). There were single hull losses involving six different types, a Canadair CL-600-2B19 Regional Jet (SE-DUX), a Viking Air DHC-6 Twin Otter 400 (9N-AHH), a Boeing 737-8KN (A6-FDN), a de Havilland Canada DHC-4T Caribou (PK-SWW), an ATR 42-500 (AP-BHO) and a veteran Boeing 727-2J0 (F) Adv. (HK-4544). Significantly, two out of 19 accident aircraft were operated by airlines on the E.U. ‘black list’.

In addition to the five Grand Caravans lost in fatal airliner accidents, another PK-RCK was destroyed by a post-impact fire, in an accident at Lolat, Papua, Indonesia on 14th June 2016. Two other military operated examples, ‘3004’ of the South African Air Force and YI-119 of the Iraqi Air Force, were also lost, bringing the total hull-loss occurrences of the type to 205.


Five-year-average trends show a serious decrease in accidents occurring during the approach and landing phases of flight. The five year average for those accidents is at its lowest point in 45 years. Over the last five years about one in three accidents occurred during the approach or landing phase. On the other hand, the cruise and descent phase accident trend show a marked increase to 45% of all accidents in the past five years. This is the highest number in 50 years.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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