(English) 2011 was a safe year in the skies

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Commercial plane crashes reached an all-time worldwide low last year, according to a report released Friday by the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation.

However, the worst major commercial jet crash in the western world in 2011 was in Canada.

The Aug. 20 crash of a First Air Boeing 737 into a hillside outside Resolute Bay, Nunavut, killed 12 of 15 people aboard and was North America’s only major fatal commercial jet disaster last year.

It was among 14 big airliner crashes worldwide that claimed 314 lives, down from 564 deaths in 2010. The deadliest single crash was that of an Iran Air 727 in Orumiyeh, Iran, that killed 78 people.

Still, the accident rate for western-built commercial jets last year was 0.27 accidents per million departures, a dramatic drop from 0.54 in 2010 and the 0.57 average for the previous decade.

A Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation into the First Air tragedy is nearing completion and preliminary evidence shows the flight crew initiated a «go round,» or aborted landing, just before impact. It is not known what prompted the pilots to abort, but «go-rounds» are not uncommon and usually uneventful.

Flight 6560’s controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) is a common characteristic of many of the world’s worst crashes, along with failed approaches, landings and midair loss of control.

The majority of the major commercial jet crashes in 2011 were approach and landing accidents – eight in total – according to the foundation.

Four others were CFIT accidents, and in two others planes barrelled off the end of runways.

Previous research by the foundation determined that «unstabilized» approaches compounded by a failure to go around when warranted are major risk factors, accounting for 83 per cent of approach and landing accidents.

Maintaining a stable speed, descent rate and vertical lateral flight path in landing configuration is commonly referred to as the stabilized approach concept.

Researchers say three to four per cent of all approaches are unstabilized, yet more than nine of every 10 such approaches continues to landing.

Meanwhile, 2011 saw 23 major accidents involving commercial turboprop aircraft with more than 14 seats, in line with the five-year average of 23.4.

The report says the greatest turboprop danger continues to be CFIT, which accounted for one out of every four of the 70 such crashes over the previous three years.

Two commercial turboprops crashed in Canada last year. On April 1, a twin-engined Casa 212 Aviocar belonging to an Ottawa geological surveying company crashed into a sound barrier along a busy street in Saskatoon, killing passenger Iaroslav Gorokhovski, 47, of Embrun, Ont. Two other men survived.

Again on Sept. 22, a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter for Arctic Sunwest Charters crashed onto a residential street in Yellowknife, killing the two pilots. Seven passengers survived.

Accident rates for Canada in 2011 have yet to be released. In 2010, 288 aviation accidents were reported to the TSB, putting the accident rate for Canadian-registered aircraft at six accidents per 100,000 flying hours, down from to 6.2 in 2009.