Despite concerns over civil aviation safety triggered by the crash of a passenger jet in southern China on Monday, the nation’s civil aviation industry is still safe and trustworthy, experts said.
Li Xiaojin, a professor of aviation economics at Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin, said: “China’s civil aviation safety can be trusted. Before the crash, the country had a safe flight record for 4,227 days, the best such record worldwide. This is a remarkable achievement for a vast nation with a large volume of passengers.”
From 2005 to 2020, China was ranked the world’s second-largest air transportation market in traffic volume after the United States, according to World Bank data.
Monday’s tragedy ended China’s 12-year civil aviation safety record and also raised concerns over flight safety.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Emergency Management and the Office of the Work Safety Committee of the State Council jointly issued a notice requiring all regions, relevant departments and service providers to heed the crash as a warning, and to carry out in-depth inspections on safety hazards and prevent accidents.
According to the notice, the civil aviation sector must implement safety hazard inspections, adopt administrative penalties when necessary, and urge service providers to establish risk-control mechanisms to ensure operational safety.
On Tuesday, the CAAC launched a two-week safety inspection of the industry aimed at discovering and eliminating safety hazards.
The inspection is being carried out in all areas, including regional civil aviation administrations, airline companies, airports and pilot training organizations.
The CAAC has told all those involved to first carry out a self-examination.
Random checks are being implemented by the administration to ensure the evaluation is effective.
Li said: “Flying is still the safest means of transportation in terms of casualties. Last year in China, about 60,000 people died in traffic accidents, which roughly equates to 600 airplane crashes.”
He added that it is important to regain public confidence in the sector.
He also noted that in 2002, the CAAC predicted that there would be eight air crashes in China from that year to 2020, but only one occurred during this period.
“Data show that China’s civil aviation industry has worked to keep safety as the top priority,” he said.
Before Monday’s tragedy, the most recent jet disaster in China was on Aug 24, 2010, when an Embraer E-190 regional jet operated by Henan Airlines crashed in Yichun, Heilongjiang province, killing 44 people and injuring 52.
Li said, “I believe that in the next 20 years, China’s civil aviation sector, including safety capability, management abilities and performance, will be better than in the past two decades.”
The nation’s civil aviation safety record has remained among the best in the world over the past decade.
Wu Shijie, deputy director of the CAAC’s safety office, told a routine monthly news conference before Monday’s crash, “As of the end of February, China’s civil aviation safety record stood for 138 months, with 5.11 billion passenger trips handled safely.”
Li said the nation’s civil aviation sector has long regarded safety as the top priority, and aims to properly handle the relationship between development, profit, punctuality and service. When there is conflict between safety and efficiency, China always opts for safety.
For example, he said the average age of civil aviation aircraft in China is 6 to 7 years, which is better than most countries, including the US, where the average age of such jets is more than 10 years, and many of them have been in operation for more than 30 years.
“Aircraft are like automobiles－the newer they are, the safer they are, but the cost is higher,” Li said, adding that China has also been investing more on personnel to ensure safety.
According to a report by the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, one accident occurred for every 990,000 flights, according to data from last year.
The report said the sector has shown a strongly improved safety performance in several areas over the past five years.
Last year, some 25.7 million flights were operated worldwide, with 26 accidents－seven of which were fatal and killed a total of 121 people, the report said.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director-general, said: “Safety is always our highest priority. The severe reduction in flight numbers last year compared to the five-year average magnified the impact of each accident when we calculate rates. Yet in the face of numerous operational challenges in 2021, the industry improved in several key safety metrics.
“At the same time, it is clear that we have much work ahead of us to bring all regions and types of operations up to global levels of safety performance.”
Zheng Yuhuang, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, used a theory called “availability bias” to explain the reason for public fears over civil aviation accidents.
The theory is one of the cognitive effects described by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University professor, and his colleague, the late renowned cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky, a professor at Stanford University.
“After a crash, excessive news coverage elicits an emotional response from the public, tricking people into believing that air crashes happen frequently.
“On the other hand, car accidents happen every day, but few of them attract attention, let alone news reports,” Zheng said on his vlog account.
He added that people tend to remember air crashes rather than car accidents, misleading them into thinking that the former occur more frequently than the latter.
Gu Shengqin, associate professor at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, wrote in a recent article on Carnoc, a major Chinese civil aviation website, “The civil aviation sector regards safety as the top priority.”