WASHINGTON (AP) — There were no commercial passenger jet deaths anywhere in the world last year. It’s a remarkable record, but is it fair for President Donald Trump to claim some of the credit?
Not exactly. Global and U.S. commercial aviation deaths have been trending downward for more than a decade due to a variety of factors.
A look at commercial aviation’s safety record globally and in the U.S., as well as the president’s role:
TRUMP: “Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”
Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
THE FACTS: The Dutch aviation consultancy To70 and the Aviation Safety Network reported Monday that there were no commercial passenger jet deaths last year, although there were two fatal regional airline crashes involving small turboprop planes in Angola and Russia. There were also fatal accidents involving cargo airliners.
Much of the credit for reducing passenger airline deaths goes to aircraft safety systems that have virtually eliminated midair collisions between airliners and what is referred to in aviation as “controlled flight into terrain.” Usually that means flying a plane into the side of a mountain.
There have been other improvements as well, including airlines adopting safety programs designed to spot potential problems before an accident occurs rather than relying on learning lessons from analysis after a crash.
Fang Liu, secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that sets international safety standards, said in a statement that the 2017 results reflect the “commitment and cooperation” of many governments, airline companies and aviation professionals worldwide “who have worked so hard together to achieve them.”
MOST RECENT US CRASHES
In the U.S., it has been 4½ years — Barack Obama was starting his second term as president — since the last deaths involving a scheduled passenger airline. Three passengers died after Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013.
It’s been almost nine years since the last fatalities involving a U.S.-registered, scheduled passenger airline in the United States. That was Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed on approach to Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 12, 2009. All 49 people on board and a man on the ground were killed. Colgan, now defunct, was a regional airline.
TRUMP AND REGULATIONS
Trump claimed to be “very strict” with airlines, but he has made rolling back regulations a pillar of his presidency, seeing them as drags on the economy. There have been no new major safety regulations imposed on passenger airlines as Trump rounds out his first year in office.
Indeed, Trump has not moved forward on an important aviation safety regulation that was pending when he took office: a rule proposed by the Obama White House that would ban shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries on passenger planes and limit lithium batteries shipped on all-cargo planes to no more than a 30 percent state of charge. Testing has shown that the batteries can self-ignite, creating intense fires and explosions. The ban was opposed by the battery industry and some manufacturers who use batteries in their products.
Asked how Trump had been “very strict” with commercial aviation, White House spokesman Raj Shah cited Trump’s support for privatizing U.S. air traffic control operations and “enhanced security” measures by the Department of Homeland Security.
“President Trump has raised the bar for our nation’s aviation safety and security,” he said in a statement.
The enhanced security measures Shah referred to are the additional screening of passengers and their personal electronic devices at foreign airports with flights to the U.S. that the administration said last June was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.
But Trump’s plan to put air traffic control under the authority of a private, nonprofit corporation hasn’t moved forward, so it couldn’t have had an effect on air safety. And it’s hardly being strict with the commercial aviation industry, since industry officials back the plan.
Supporters of privatization have been clear that the proposal is aimed at speeding air traffic modernization and is unrelated to safety. The FAA would continue its safety oversight of air traffic operations.