Commercial flight is still nearly the safest it has ever been, despite the latest spate of crashes including an Air Algérie flight on Thursday, according to aviation sources.
The 81 commercial accidents worldwide last year was up from 75 in 2012, which was the safest year on record, but still below the five-year average of 86 per year, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for airlines around the world.
Sixteen accidents last year were fatal, one more than the year before, but also below the five-year average of 19, according to the airlines group.
The last fatal crash of an Air Algérie passenger plane was in 2003, which killed 102 people aboard, according to a summary by the Aviation Safety Network, a group that tracks accidents worldwide. The 737 suffered an engine failure soon after taking off from Tamanrasset bound for Algiers, and the pilot had failed to retract landing gear as the plane lost power, according to the summary.
Initial reports about the Air Algérie flight, which was being operated by Spanish contractor Swiftair, is that it likely crashed in stormy weather. The accident following a TransAsia crash in a typhoon on Taiwan on Wednesday and a Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down July 17 over eastern Ukraine.
While there is a tendency to link accidents, U.S. airline Capt. Patrick Smith said each of the recent incidents seems to stem from a different cause and that airline travel remains safe.
"It's not indicative of some menacing trend," said Smith, who writes the blog askthepilot.com and authored the book Cockpit Confidential. "I think you're just seeing a spate of unfortunate luck."
The Federal Aviation Administration has a warning to U.S. airlines against flying over Mali at less than 24,000 feet because of rebels using small arms, rockets, mortars and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons."
Smith, who flies routinely over Mali and vacationed there, said U.S. airlines don't go to Mali destinations, in contrast to a variety of European carriers. U.S. airlines flying to Africa are flying to Sub-Saharan countries, he said.
"It's so early after an accident in a remote part of the world that about the worst thing we could do is try to nail down a cause," Smith said. "It's just too soon."