While a person is more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than die in an airplane crash, aviation insurers have warned that cyber-attacks will pose a greater threat to air safety in the years to come.
A report by aviation insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE says the increasing likelihood of cyber-attacks and the expected increase of drones in commercial use are an increasing concern for the industry.
“New-generation aircraft are highly exposed to cyber-crime due to the prevalent use of data networks, onboard computer systems and navigation systems”, said Ludovic Arnoux, the company’s global head of aviation risk consulting.
“Data breaches and cyber-attacks are perceived to be growing risks.”
Global head of aviation Joe Strickland, however, said technology was also responsible for improvements in air safety.
“Air safety has improved greatly, underpinned by technology, navigation systems, engine improvement and design implementations such as fail-safe design criteria and fly-by-wire control.
“At the same time the standard of training of crew and safety management has become notably higher.
“Innovations such as digital message communications systems — enabling pilots and controllers to ‘text’ each other — are enhancing the aviation safety environment further,” he said.
The Global Aviation Safety Study also found that:
n Analysis over 10 years (2003-2012) shows most accidents occur during descent and landing (57%), followed by the climb stage of the flight (24%). Just 9% occur during the cruise stage. Analysis also shows there is no such thing as a safest seat on a flight, as no two crashes are comparable.
n Damage from foreign objects continues to be an issue for the aviation sector, with this being the fifth highest generator of insurance claims by number. Bird strikes are a notable cause but incidents on runways with animals such as zebras and cows can also cause losses.
n There is more chance of being killed by lightning (1 in 10.5m) than dying in a plane crash in the US and Europe (1 in 29m).
While North America and Europe have the best commercial safety records, Africa is the poorest performer. In 2012, 88% of global aviation fatalities occurred in Africa (45%) and Asia (43%). Africa uses the highest percentage of second generation aircraft — over 50% of the total fleet analysed.
In commercial aviation operations, it is estimated 70% of fatal accidents are related to human error with pilot fatigue a major contributor, and a number of incidents have raised the question of whether pilots are too reliant on automation in the cockpit.
“More focus should be placed on continuous training with pilots flying with and without automation,” said Sebastien Saillard, head of aviation claims, at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE.
“Basic airmanship remains essential to safely operate any aircraft and in particular if, for any reason, automation is unavailable.”