The Yeti Airlines plane crash in Nepal – which killed all 72 people on board, including a Sydney teacher – has raised questions about the safety of flying in other countries frequently visited by Australians.
- The European Union has banned airlines from 21 countries from flying into the bloc due to security concerns
- Experts say some countries find it difficult to enforce aviation regulations because they lack the resources
- Australians should look to take a well-established carrier when flying overseas, according to aviation experts
Back in 2013, the European Union banned all 20 Nepalese airlines – including Yeti Airlines – from flying to the European Union.
It implemented the ban after the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) raised concerns about safety standards that all member states must follow.
Several other countries frequently visited by Australian tourists have also been scrutinized for their flight safety records.
Civil aviation authorities in ICAO member states, such as Nepal, have an obligation to monitor safety across their aviation sectors.
According to RMIT University associate professor of aerospace engineering and aeronautics, Chrystal Zhang, this means that governments need to ensure that there are laws and operational standards in place so that their national aviation industries are safe.
Dr Zhang told the ABC that – in addition to regulations introduced by governments – airlines and airports must develop their own security management systems.
“That can be very broad, covering every element of operation throughout the airline, from personnel, license management, to maintenance, to daily operations to operational manuals,” Dr Zhang said.
She said these standards must be maintained permanently to be effective.
Which countries and airlines have questionable safety records?
The EU air safety list – which details all airlines banned in the 27-member bloc – provides the clearest indication of which countries and airlines are unsafe to fly to, according to Dr Zhang.
There are planes from 21 countries, mostly from Africa, on the list of banned airlines.
Commercial aircraft from Venezuela, Suriname, Iran, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Russia, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone and the Sudan on the EU list.
Iran Air and North Korea’s Air Koryo are subject to operational restrictions in the EU.
Dr Zhang said the EU only blacklists countries when it is not confident with the oversight capability of a nation’s civil aviation regulator.
If a nation’s aviation sector is deemed unsafe, the EU can ban all registered airlines from that country until improvements are made.
The same can be applied to individual airlines.
“It’s one of the very reliable resources that people can refer to … and they’re constantly updating the list,” she said.
Several countries and airlines and destinations popular with Australians were put on the list but have since been removed.
All 51 Indonesian airlines were banned from flying to the EU in 2007, including national carrier Garuda, due to declining safety standards.
The ban on Indonesian carriers was lifted in 2018.
There have been at least two deadly commercial jet plane crashes in Indonesia since 2018, including Lion Air Flight 610 and Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 – both Indonesian planes that crashed into the Java Sea.
Airline consultant Neil Hansford told the ABC that Indonesia’s aviation safety record has improved, mostly because international carriers fly from elsewhere, forcing local airlines to improve safety standards.
“Indonesia was a place you don’t want to be. It’s not in that status [any more],” he said
Mr Hansford said the same applies to Thailand, which the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) International Aviation Safety Assessment Program found – in November 2022 – does not provide adequate safety oversight that meets ICAO standards.
“The good thing is that you can get reliable Australian carriers … and those countries fly with all the disciplines you would expect from an Australian carrier.”
There were three fatal commercial jet plane incidents in Thailand between 2001 and 2009, including Bangkok Airways Flight 266, One-Two-GO Airlines Flight 269 and Thai Airways Flight 114, which was rocked by an explosion.
“They’ve raised their standards because, if an airport is fundamentally unsafe, the Australian regulator in conjunction with the airlines will not operate in these types of locations,” Mr Hansford said.
The FAA also found that authorities in Bangladesh, Mexico, Pakistan and the Organization of Caribbean States did not provide adequate safety oversight.
Philippines Airlines was blacklisted by the EU, but was removed from its ban in 2015 after the EU found that the country’s civil aviation authority could monitor compliance.
The number-one destination for Australian travelers, New Zealand, has some terrain and flying conditions similar to Nepal’s.
In a sign of stronger aviation security regulations and enforcement there, pilots flying to mountain Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island must have special training to land and take off from the airport.
Mr Hansford said pilots had to be regularly checked on their ability to land and take off from the airport, and airport operators had put a “special focus” on making it safe.
Why are some countries worse than others?
Dr Zhang said that while all 193 ICAO member states sign up to follow the same rules, it is ultimately up to individual member states to implement these standards.
She said there were some standards that were mandatory for states to notify, others were recommended practices and ultimately up to individual members.
Although the standards have been introduced, she said, some governments do not have the financial resources, people or systems to implement the laws.
She said that different countries interpret the language of ICAO standards differently, or might think that certain guidelines do not apply to them.
“If you have the resources and you have the capacity, like Australia [to implement the standards]we are very famous for our strict regulations,” she said.
“But, for other countries … maybe they’re struggling with the resources to not only implement the standards — the technical requirements — but a lack of resources to implement these recommended practices.”
Dr Zhang said there was a link between increasing private investment to meet travel demand and security, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
She said governments in the region needed to balance private investment in airlines with security and ensuring that the appropriate infrastructure was in place.
How can Australians fly overseas safely?
For Australians traveling overseas and flying safely, Mr Hansford said people should check an airline’s safety record and avoid always going for the cheapest option.
“To save $100, [customers] would take a carrier that is not Australian … with no thought for their safety,” she said.
“If you say to people, ‘Well, do you think your life is worth $100?’ they don’t give it a second thought.”
He said customers should look at how long the airline has been in business, and suggested searching websites like Airline Reviews for tips on which airlines are safest.
Dr Zhang said the EU Air Safety List is a reliable way to check whether the airline you will be flying with – or country you are traveling to – has a good safety record.
She said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the US FAA both publish data on aviation accidents in their respective countries, and suggested that passengers fly with established, well-managed airlines.
“Check the history of the airline, the type of aircraft they use to fly that particular route,” she said.
“The fleet information, I think, is very helpful for the passenger to determine the particular flight they have booked.”