With yet another airliner gone missing over Southeast Asian airspace, there's no question that 2014 has been a year beset by mysterious air tragedies. But there's a surprising fact hiding behind this year's high-profile air tragedies: 2014 has been the safest year for flying since, well, ever.
These numbers come from the Aviation Safety Network, an online service that tracks airline accidents and safety incidents over the years. Their data show that including the disappearance and presumed crash of AirAsia 8501, there have been a total of 20 fatal airliner accidents this year -- the lowest since ASN's records start in 1942. ASN's numbers only include commercial flights with 14+ passengers -- e.g., the type of flights we usually think of when we think about flying somewhere. But a larger database maintained by the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, which includes smaller flights, private aircraft and military planes, paints the exact same picture.
2014 has seen something of a spike in fatalities, however. ASN's numbers show 1,007 deaths for 2014 so far, a figure which includes only major commercial airliner accidents. The AirAsia flight and the two Malaysia Air flights earlier in the year account for over half of those fatalities -- 699. And again, these numbers follow the same pattern seen in the larger BAAA database.
Flying will never not be an unsettling experience -- there's nothing natural about packing yourself into an aluminum tube with hundreds of strangers and getting hurtled across the sky at high speed. Airlines certainly aren't helping things as they seek to make the default flying experience ever more miserable to nudge us into purchasing "upgrades," like adequate legroom. But holiday travelers should rest a little easier knowing that flying now is safer than it's ever been.