2017 was identified by analysts as being the safest year ever in terms of air transport safety. We of course hoped that 2018 would be even better, but unfortunately this was not the case. Even so, the statistics that several international bodies are preparing for publication are not disappointing as they are going to show that 2018 was, nevertheless, the third best year in history, thus confirming the very high safety level in the commercial air transport sector. There were three major accidents involving twin-engine jet aircraft and three involving twin-turboprops, and slightly more than 500 victims.
While the BEA was involved in several investigations carried out by foreign authorities as accredited representative, in accordance with the provisions of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, there was no fatal accident in commercial air transport in France.
I am often asked about the BEA’s activity in the absence of major accidents. The answer to this question is simple: safety is not solely improved by investigations into large-scale events, but also by investigations into events which have very little media coverage. In this respect, a large part of the BEA’s resources were used in 2018 to search for engine parts from the Airbus A380 on flight AF66 between Paris and Los Angeles on 30 September 2017, following the separation of the engine No 4 fan from the aeroplane over Greenland: in the end, the aeroplane was able to divert without any other incident to Goose Bay airport in Canada. The safety investigation into this event quickly revealed the necessity of recovering the key parts in order to clarify the failure mechanisms. The search for these parts, in a particularly hostile environment (at an altitude of around 1800 metres on the Greenland ice cap and around 100 kilometres from the coast) quickly posed numerous technical and financial problems: the search is still in progress and a major new phase will be initiated in the spring of 2019. The BEA cannot guarantee that the operation will be a success but the safety stakes were considered sufficiently great to justify it.
With respect to general aviation safety in France, the statistics are, unfortunately, not so good. While the figures are relatively stable for the ULM activity, there was a significant increase in the number of fatal accidents and victims for the aeroplane activity, with a return to figures which had not been seen since 2012. It is of course too early to analyse whether this increase is from systemic causes or whether it just corresponds to a statistical fluctuation. For my part, I will maintain the general aviation investigation policy introduced a few years ago which aims to use BEA resources for investigations into the most serious events (fatal accidents to certified or non-certified aircraft) and to limit them with respect to events the least rich in safety lessons. This policy has a tendency to slightly increase the BEA’s workload and the number of investigations opened quite notably increased in 2018. This increase can, in part, explain a certain erosion in the BEA’s performance (greater number of investigations in progress, longer average investigation time). I remain vigilant with respect to changes in the result of performance indicators and I will ensure that any possible fall is remediated. However, I will also be attentive to ensuring a high quality level in the investigations produced and I consider, from this point of view, that the BEA can be just as proud of their results in 2018 as in previous years.
I will not finish this message without mentioning the growth of the BEA’s international activity: it is first and foremost the result of the BEA’s solid reputation which it has built on the international level, in line with the developments of the French and European aviation industry. The number of requests from foreign safety investigation authorities has accelerated in a spectacular way the last few years. It became necessary to define priorities: the BEA’s industrial partners were consulted in order to adjust our level of involvement according to criteria related to the potential for safety lessons of the notified events. This action which optimizes the BEA’s international presence under the constraint of unchanged human and budget resources is an important aspect of the 2018-2022 strategic plan which was presented in last year’s annual report. The BEA largely relies on the expertise, the strong motivation and commitment of those who work for it: the technical staff, investigators, field investigators and administrative staff - let me take this opportunity to thank them for their significant contribution to aviation safety!
Director of BEA