Commercial aviation had one of its safest years in 2023 as passenger levels rose above 2019 levels on most major routes, with overall traffic also expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, according to new data from two international bodies. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that there were no hull loses or fatal accidents involving passenger jets in 2023, despite a 17% increase in jet and turboprop aircraft movements, though a single fatal turboprop accident resulted in the death of 72 people. 

Despite the single tragic accident, IATA’s annual safety report found the overall accident rate was only 0.8 per million sectors in 2023, meaning one accident for every 1.26 million flights, marking a significant decrease on the 1.3 rate of 2022. 

IATA declared 2023 the “safest year for flying by several parameters”, with only North America and the Asia-Pacific recording increases in accident rates, with the latter suffering the only fatal turboprop crash of the year after an incident in Nepal in January 2023 and a doubling of the number of accidents in Russia

IATA Director General Willie Walsh said the data for 2023 showed the priority of safety for the aviation industry, though he added: “A single fatal turboprop accident with 72 fatalities… reminds us that we can never take safety for granted. 

“And two high-profile accidents in the first month of 2024 show that, even if flying is among the safest activities a person can do, there is always room to improve. This is what we have done throughout our history. And we will continue to make flying ever safer.” 

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The sentiment comes at the same time as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) published its projection for global passenger air traffic levels this year. ICAO expected 2% growth in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period in 2019. 

The ICAO said its projections for the whole year predicted passenger traffic would be around 3% above 2019 levels, though cargo traffic is not expected to follow the same trajectory, with current projections placing freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) around 2% below 2019 levels. 

Statistics published by the organisation found that passenger traffic has already exceeded pre-pandemic levels in many major international routes, including between North America and most regions. 

However, ICAO said most international Asian routes were struggling to recover from the pandemic, recording traffic “substantially lower” than in 2019, meaning North American and European airlines continued to record the majority of the industry’s profits. 

IATA and the ICAO’s data is particularly promising for an industry which has been hit by concerns around quality control at the beginning of 2024, thanks to a blow out incident on an Alaska Airlines flight and heavy criticism of Boeing’s safety culture

Supply chain issues have also returned to the forefront of conversations in recent months, with both Boeing and Airbus delaying the delivery of aircraft to airline customers for varying reasons.