The safest aviation year ever creates controversy

A Southwest 737 just short of landing at LAX 24R
A Southwest 737 just short of landing at LAX 24R

In 2017 there were no deaths attributed to jet aircraft accidents. Globally. Out of tens of millions of flights that operated around the world not a single jet aircraft crash took lives. That is an absolutely incredible accomplishment. It also managed to generate some controversy when Donald Trump tried to take credit for it on Tuesday morning.

This self-aggrandizing statement is an insult to the tens of thousands of aviation professionals around the world who work tirelessly on testing systems, managing repairs and maintenance, operating air traffic control, and the tons of other services that go in to making sure every flight is a safe one. Also, the lack of passenger deaths in the US is hardly a rare occurrence these days. The data is impressive:

That’s right. Zero fatalities on scheduled US flights since 2009; longer if only jets are counted. Globally the numbers are still impressive, though not zeros.

So, did any changes to US policy or procedures in 2017 contribute to improving aviation safety? Turns out quite the opposite.

There were two major aviation policy efforts in play in 2017: ATC privatization and the Electronics ban. Neither is good for aviation safety.

The electronics ban cause flights from 10 airports inbound to the United States to not allow passengers to carry devices larger than a cell phone in the cabin. The affected airlines responded by collecting the “dangerous” devices from passengers, boxing them up and putting them in the baggage hold. Carrying the Li-ion batteries as cargo is in direct contravention of multiple recommendations and policies on a global scale. It was a terrible plan when it was implemented, stoking concerns from IATA, trade groups and anyone with insight into the cargo safety space. Fortunately it was a relatively short-lived ban – just a few months – but the increased risk during that time was very real. That same risk caused airlines to ban hoverboards in 2015 and most “smart” luggage batteries in 2018. The Trump Administration ignored those risks in favor of the ban policy.

Ultimately the FAA conducted further studies with lots of bags catching on fire and concluded that it is really, really bad policy.

The FAA conclusions are very opposed to more PEDs in checked bags. Thermal runaway in the cargo hold is really, really hard to contain.
The FAA conclusions are very opposed to more PEDs in checked bags. Thermal runaway in the cargo hold is really, really hard to contain.

On the ATC privatization front the safety implications are less clear. Supposedly it will speed NextGen deployment, something that will improve safety. But it is unclear that privatization is really necessary to get there versus just having the government properly fund the FAA today.

So, yeah, the President is taking credit for things that have nothing to do with his actions. And disrespecting tens of thousands of hard working professionals in the process. Nice job, buddy.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Even our beloved world of civil aviation must rise against the threats which the deconstruction of the administrative state causes to our beloved world of flying. Truth and seemingly unobjectable practices are now all threatened. As the orange man-child attacks even law enforcement, service members, and the foreign service, civil aviation is certainly easily attacked. We must defend it.

  2. “Under my leadership, the sun rose every morning in the East. During the Obama disaster, it didn’t always do that. Remember?” What a moron.

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