On Tuesday, a TransAsia Airways passenger plane carrying 58 people crashed into a river shortly after takeoff. The TransAsia crash killed at least 23 people, with more still missing. This is the second fatal TransAsia crash in a year, which has drawn a lot of people's attention to a crucial question: how is TransAsia Airways' safety record, and does it tell us anything about how or why this crash took place?
We just lived through a year with a surprising spike in airplane crash fatalities. There were 1,320 in all, following a 2013 that was one of the safest years of the modern aviation era, with a mere 265 plane crash-related deaths. Fascinatingly, despite the heavy 2014 death toll, it wasn't even the result of a surge in plane crashes overall — fewer planes crashed in 2014, but those that did cost a lot more human lives.
Given this context, and the obvious shock and dismay of hearing that another plane has gone down — harrowing dashcam footage of the flight's final moments before crashing has been circulating — it's only natural that people want to know whether TransAsia has a reliable track record, or whether this incident should be cause for heightened concern.
Well, as it turns out, the record is a little troubling. The crash of Flight GE235 Wednesday was actually the second fatal accident the airline has suffered over the last seven months. Back in July 2014, a TransAsia ATR 72-500 twin-engine plane carrying 58 passengers and crew members crashed into two houses while attempting to land at Taiwan's Penghu Island, killing 48.
The model of airplane in this most recent crash, the ATR 72-600, is a newer, upgraded model of the one that crashed en route to Penghu, but it's still fundamentally very similar — both are smallish, twin-engine turboprop planes.
Overall, TransAsia has had four airplane incidents since 1995 that have resulted in loss of human life. The first two, earlier examples saw far fewer fatalities than the two they've suffered over the last year — in both the 1995 and 2002, a combined six crew members were killed, the first due to an outright crash, the second the result of the plane crashing into the sea shortly after takeoff due to extreme ice conditions.
All in all, a confirmed 77 people have died on TransAsia flights over the last 20 years. It's not a particularly staggering figure taken in full — though, with the recovery effort on Flight GE235 not yet complete, there's a grim likelihood that number could tick up even further. But much like Malaysia Airlines, which saw its business suffer significantly after losing two commercial airliners in 2014, having two fatal accidents like this in such close proximity to one another can have a deeply chilling effect on people's willingness to trust.
It is worth noting, however, that given TransAsia's smaller flight sizes, and the fact that two of its crashes over the last 20 years killed only a small number crew members, their record of total deaths looks a lot better than recent events would suggest. Compared to China Airlines, for example (widely cited as one of the world's least-safe airlines), TransAsia's 20-year run has been far less dangerous — China Airlines has seen 405 deaths over the same period.
To draw another comparison, the beleaguered AirAsia lost more passengers in the crash of Flight 8501 alone (162 people total) than TransAsia has since 1995. Obviously, any kind of incident is going to be a huge black mark on your safety record, however, but despite the high number of fatalities, China Airlines actually had just four incidents since 1995, compared to five for TransAsia.
As Greg Waldron, the Asia Managing Editor for Flightglobal (an international aviation news resource) told NBC News, the dual incidents are likely to ratchet-up pressure from regulators, too.
Coming so soon after July's crash, the airline could come under intense scrutiny by regulators, not to mention the impact this will have on public perceptions of the carrier.
Hopefully the cleanup, recovery and rescue efforts will come to an end soon, and everyone who survived this awful incident gets the care they need. And hopefully this is the last story we see like this for at least a little while — it's high time the air travelers of the world catch a break, frankly.