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air safety

Jun 11, 2013

Airlineratings.com has some explaining to do

There is much to anticipate from today's launch of Airline Ratings.com  but there are some important questions to ask


Jetstar, it's official, every bit as safe as Qantas.

There is much to anticipate from today’s launch of Airline Ratings.com  but there are some important questions to ask as well.

Among them, why Air France and Jetstar have both received the highest order of safety rating, 7/7, placing them on the same level as Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand and about 141 of the 425 airlines rated by the site?

Air France came close to losing a Boeing 777 that was badly flown on approach to Paris CDG in 2011 and slaughtered all 228 people on board a fully functional A330-200 in 2009 which crashed out of control into the mid-Atlantic.

It is inconceivable for Air France to be rated safer than Lion Air of Indonesia, on 2 out of 7, when it made its far less violent and totally survived water landing just short of the runway at Denspasar earlier this year.

However my colleague and Editor-in-Chief of Airline Ratings Geoffrey Thomas this morning referred to relying in part on the European no-fly list of airlines banned in European air space.

That list has no credibility whatsoever if it excludes Air France, and looks increasingly politically or culturally motivated when on occasions it has also names airlines in Asia with neither the equipment nor traffic rights to fly to cities in Europe.

At this stage the logo buttons on the Airline Ratings do not expand to reveal exactly how each rating was determined, but this is only Day 1 of going live, and there are some really good things on the site, and no doubt the formulas used and apportioned for each judgement will in due course be shown, together with a history button showing revisions and reasons.

However turning to Australian carriers, there has surely to be an explanation as to why Jetstar would be given a 7/7 rating. There have been a series of serious incidents involving Jetstar since it took press reports including by this reporter in Crikey, to wake up the ATSB to the failure of Jetstar to report an incident in which one of its A320s was almost flown into the ground at Melbourne’s main airport in 2007 after the management of that airline improperly changed the approved flight manual in relation to missed approaches.

In another debacle in 2010, two Jetstar pilots at the controls of an A321 about to land at Singapore Airport on a flight from Darwin did not exchange a single word for more than two minutes, during which the jet dropped to less than 500 feet above the ground, while remaining incorrectly configured to land, during which the captain became distracted by incoming text messages to his mobile phone.

The captain told the junior pilot just to land the jet, the junior pilot took the initiative to perform a go around, and in post incident interviews both pilots told the ATSB they thought they had remained above 800 feet.

In fact the cockpit was full of a variety of audible and visible alarms telling them precisely where they were.  They later flew the same jet back to Darwin.  The details reported by the ATSB ought to tell the editors of Airline Ratings that Jetstar is not a 7/7 safe airline equal in such excellence as Qantas.

If however the editors rate REX Regional Express 5/7, why wouldn’t Jetstar be a 4 or maybe even a 3?

There are serious issues in the public administration of air safety in Australia, including the suppressing of vital but damning safety information by CASA during the ATSB investigation of the Pel-Air ditching near Norfolk Island in 2009.

Unquestioning acceptance of no fly lists, and statements by our safety regulators, can undermine the accuracy of the assessments made by this worthy website.  If it looks like a recitation of PR driven messaging from the airlines and various safety agencies it will not be credible, although for some, it may seem comforting.



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7 thoughts on “Airlineratings.com has some explaining to do

  1. Mark Parker

    Hi Ben
    A couple of points for discussion…

    1. You don’t mention AF358 in your critique of Air France? Another wide-body hull loss in Canada, though a far happier outcome (if loss of souls is considered)

    2. I note Emirates also have a 7/7 rating despite EK407 deciding to plough some new potato fields for the local farmers at Tullamarine…

    Finally, on a pedantic point – you really should configure hyperlinks to open in a new tab/window – clicking on links in your post takes the user off Plane Talking to the destination website – which isn’t ideal as many of us ‘enjoy’ reading your posts. A small point but an important one nonetheless…

    cheers Mark

  2. TT

    I checked the website and they rated Air France with 6 stars for safety record (may be they have updated since you wrote your article?) I would not travel on Air France even if they are rated 8 stars (unless my company forced me to use them…)

    Seriously, the safety rating is fundamentally wrong. They assessed safety on 7 criteria for which each awarded with one star (therefore each criteria is ranked equally). The problem is, if an airline operates only Russian built aircraft it has one star taken off. Now, they would mean Aeroflot would be awarded one star on that, because they have operate Airbus… how sort of logic is that? I would be more worry for an airline that still operates Hawker Sidney Tridents than an airline uses more recently built (and maintained) Russian made aircrafts! Also, does it mean it is as safe to try fly on a Russian aircraft based airline vs airline which had a fatality record in the last 10 years?

    I would also question the integrity of the website: I have observed ads from Asiana, Air New Zealand, Emirates in that website, and those are the ones which scores 7 stars in the ratings…

  3. moa999

    Also query why Jetstar is drawn into the headlines, when Qantas mainline has been far closer to major incidents (eg. engine on A380, gas bottle on 747, 747 into golf course)..

    versus even Tiger that was grounded for safety and regulatory issues.

    In any event I would far prefer to fly any Australian airline where there is a culture of identifying and reporting issues, versus sweeping them under the carpet.

  4. Ben Sandilands


    It was drawn into the headlines as you put it precisely because there was no differentiation between it and Qantas.

    Had Doug Nancarrow and myself separately but at the same time not blown the whistle on the 2007 JQ incident at Tullamarine it would not have been investigated. You need to read the report and the testimony of CASA to the Senate Committee inquiry into among other things and that particular incident to understand that the safety culture of open reporting in the airline was seriously deficient.

    In its belated final report on that incident the ATSB noted but did not explore that there had been other reported incidents at Jetstar at that time.

    In the prior post, in relation to Pel-Air, attention is drawn to today’s sham statement by the ATSB about information sharing.

    CASA withheld vital information from the ATSB contrary to any simple reading of the Transport Safety Investigation Act of 2003, and then participated in a process that lead to the framing of a pilot without regard to a set of additional safety factors.

    This was the first accident recorded of a Westwind jet being ditched, and none of the safety equipment worked. Yet no where in the report does it make the safety recommendations or state the safety lessons from this which would have fulfilled our ICAO obligations and furthered air safety.

    We have fallen dangerously close to the ground in this country through apathy, incompetency and abuse of process in the public administration of air safety.

    Mark Parker,

    Good point and a frustrating one. We use WordPress installed on Crikey servers, and as I understand it WP configures hyperlinks a particular way, which is sometimes better in some browsers than others. You may be able to get more joy configuring how your browser opens a new page in your preferences.

  5. Aidan Stanger

    Mark Parker –

    Making links open in new windows may have been handy in the 20th century, but now it’s just annoying. Every modern boreser lets you open whichever HTML links you want in new windows or tabs – either with a right click or a click and hold (or a tap and hold on an iPad). I dont want every link to open in a new window – I want to have the choice.

  6. johnb78

    I was looking at this one this morning, and AF was 6/7 compared to QF’s 7/7 then as well. AF meets the tick-box requirements but loses 1/7 for having been involved in fatal accidents over the last decade.

    The AirlineRatings safety rating is totally transparent. If you click the “x/7″ list, then it will come up with:

    The 7 star safety assessment criteria for all airlines is as follows

    Is the airline IOSA certified? If yes two stars are awarded; if not, no star is given.
    What is IOSA Certification? The IATA* Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification audit is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. IOSA uses internationally recognised audit principles and is designed to conduct audits in a standardised and consistent manner. Airlines are re evaluated every two years. Registering for IOSA certification and auditing is not mandatory therefore an airline that does not have IOSA certification may have either failed the IOSA audit or alternatively chosen not to participate. *IATA (International Air Transport Association)

    Is the airline on the European Union (EU) Blacklist? If no a full star is awarded; if yes then no star is given.
    What is the EU Blacklist? A list of airlines banned from flying into European airspace due to safety concerns arising from alleged poor aircraft maintenance and/or regulatory oversight. Airlines banned by the EU may have a flawless safety record however the potential risk towards passenger safety is deemed by the EU as too high and a ban is put in place

    Has the airline maintained a fatality free record for the past 10 years? If yes the airline are awarded a full star; if not then no star is given.
    A fatality is deemed as the death of crew and/or passengers whilst on board the aircraft due to an accident. If deaths occurred through acts of terrorism or highjackings they have not been included. If an airline suffered a fatal accident through no fault of their own such as a runway incursion on the active runway (an incident where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway) this has also not been included.

    Is the airline FAA endorsed? If yes a full star is awarded; if not, no star is given.
    What is FAA endorsement? In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has a list that bans countries (not airlines) from flying into American Airspace. The ban arises from a deemed inability to adhere to international aviation standards for aircraft operations and maintenance. According to the FAA Web site, “those that do not meet these international standards cannot initiate new service and are restricted to current levels of any existing service to the United States while corrective actions are underway.” An airline or airlines from a prohibited country may have a flawless safety record however the potential risk to safety is deemed too high by the FAA to allow operations in American airspace.

    Does the country of airline origin meet all 8 ICAO safety parameters? If yes TWO stars are awarded to the airline. If 5 to 7 of the criteria are met one star is awarded. If the country only meets up to four criteria no star is given
    What is ICAO and what are the 8 parameters? The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was created to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity, as well as for aviation environmental protection. The 8 ICAO audit parameters that pertain to safety are; Legislation, Organzation, Licensing, Operations, Airworthiness, Accident Investigation, Air Navigation Service and Aerodromes. For more information on a particular country visit http://www.icao.int/safety/Pages/USOAP-Results.aspx.

    Has the airline been grounded recently due to safety concerns? If yes an additional star will be taken off the total for five years from the time of grounding

    Does the airline operate only Russian built aircraft? If yes an additional star will be taken off the total.


    So REX loses its two stars for not being IOSA-certified. Meanwhile Air Asia and AAX both have very low rating because they aren’t IOSA-certified and Malaysia doesn’t meet the ICAO requirements (nor does Indonesia, which is also why Lion Air falls down).

    I agree this is reliant on box-ticking; if AF had been lucky enough to not kill anyone, then it would get the maximum 7 star rating.

    But it would be difficult-bordering-on-impossible to run a site like this subjectively, given that you’d be subject to Commonwealth-jurisdiction defamation law.


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