The pandemic may have grounded flights around the world in 2020, but that wasn't enough to reduce the number of people killed in air accidents.
Last year, 42 more people died in major aviation incidents compared with 2019, according to airlineratings.com. This is one of the reasons airline safety remains at the forefront of travellers' minds.
The website has revealed which airlines are the safest as part of its annual safety rankings. The safety and product rating website considers audits from governing and industry bodies; government audits; crash and serious incident records from individual airlines; profitability, industry-leading safety initiatives; and fleet age to conclude its ranking.
The global pandemic has added additional criteria. As airlines resumed flying after grounding fleets, aircrafts that had been parked for months had to be deemed operationally safe, and the retraining of crew, pilots and ground staff after periods of non-service were also considered.
"Last year was extremely difficult for airlines with Covid-19 slashing travel. Airline Ratings editors have looked particularly at the lengths airlines are going to retrain pilots ahead of a return to service. In the case of Qantas, a 737 pilot goes through a six-day course, including a day on well-being," Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief, Airline Ratings.
Which airline came out on top?
The safest airline in the world is Qantas. Australia's largest airline and the country's flag carrier was ranked first by airlineratings.com.
"Qantas has been the lead airline in virtually every major operational safety advancement over the past 60 years and has not had a fatality in the pure-jet era,” said Thomas.
Qantas operated fewer flights in 2020 than in previous years after the airline grounded international flights as part of its long-term recovery plan. It is set to begin selling tickets on almost all international routes again from July 1, 2021.
“These airlines have outstanding records and are at the forefront of safety,” said Thomas.
“Australia’s Qantas, for instance, has been recognised by the British Advertising Standards Association, in a test case in 2008, as the world’s most experienced airline.”
Dubai's Emirates ranked as the fifth safest airline in 2020 and Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, was listed in seventh position.
The top 20 safest airlines in the world:
2. Qatar Airways
3. Air New Zealand
4. Singapore Airlines
6. EVA Air
7. Etihad Airways
8. Alaska Airlines
9. Cathay Pacific
10. British Airways
11. Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic
12. Hawaiian Airlines
13. Southwest Airlines
14. Delta Air Lines
15. American Airlines
20. United Airlines
How is the rating decided?
When it comes to determining the ranking, editors at the airline safety website look at serious incidents airlines have been involved in over the past 12 months.
While the number of total air disasters in 2020 was lower – 40 compared to 86 in 2019 – the death rate per incidence was higher with 299 people killed in 2020, according to aviation consultancy To70. This increase was despite the number of commercial flights falling by an estimated 42 per cent, according to Flightradar24.
The deadliest aircraft accident last year involved the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in Iran in January that killed 176 people.
It accounted for more than half of all aviation deaths outlined in this year's analysis by To70.
The second most serious crash in terms of the number of fatalities was the Pakistan International Airlines incident in May, in which 98 people died.
An Air India Express crash killed 21 in August.
Other fatal incidents involved Turkey's Pegasus Airlines, with three fatalities in February, and Southwest Airlines with one death in May.