Safety is an important part of aviation. Although many customers do not care, we feel that it should be transparent to those customers who are. Studying airline web pages showed large variations between airlines, but to summarize: it appears to us that the majority of airlines want their ordinary passengers to think of flying as a non-technical activity that entails no risk, and hence no need for safety measures.
However, some airlines do go to significant depths about their safety procedures. Many of those airlines are in developing countries with poor safety records, and appear to use safety as a marketing tool to reassure customers. However, some well-known Western airlines also have a similar approach. In essence, we found no external parameters that would explain the differences.
We interpret this to mean that safety can be used as a marketing tool. Some airlines choose to use it; some do not. Nothing external forces an airline to be transparent or opaque about its safety culture; rather, this is a (business) decision that is made by the company.
Three aspects were studied (see also full project page).
Report 1. Do airlines make safety information available to their users on their main web pages? (By Jakke Mäkelä)
Report 2. Do airline web pages have any mention of accidents or incidents that have happened? (By Niko Porjo)
Report 3. Is there any external factor that would systematically explain any differences? (By Niko Porjo)
Report 1: The web sites of 83 major airlines were analyzed. Only 35% seem willing to even mention safety on their official web pages (what we decided to call a “safety-positive” approach towards customers). Airlines in developing countries were more safety-positive; up to 65% of them used safety as a marketing tool. However, this was not a hard-and-fast rule; some developed-nation airlines like British Airways and All Nippon Airways had a very large focus on safety issues.
Report 2: The web pages of 46 airlines were scanned in detail to see whether any information at all could be found about accidents that had occurred to the airlines. Out of 37 airlines with a fatal accident, 10 mentioned the accident somewhere on the web page. However, the information was technically quite shallow.
Report 3: A simple metric was used, where number of hits on a search for keywords “safety” and “accident” was used as a proxy for the amount of accident information that the airline wishes to make available. This number was correlated with a number of internal parameters that could affect it (such as airline size), as well as external parameters such as the GDP and Global Integrity Report score of the carrier country. No statistically significant correlations were found.
The overall impression is that for any ordinary passenger ordering a ticket and browsing around the web site, the majority of airlines do not wish to bring up the issue of safety in any way. The factors that are emphasized are price and quality. When anything more is described, it is positive things like social responsibility, equal opportunity, sponsorships, and so on. However, there is a dichotomy: those airlines that do mention safety tend to do so extensively.
Those are fairly objective facts; what personal opinions should we draw from them? We are rather surprised that so few airlines choose to be open about safety. Silence on this issue does not benefit the customers. Customers should be able to make informed choices, and this includes understanding the safety record of the airline.
Perhaps it does not benefit the airlines either. In a culture of silence, safety only becomes visible when disaster strikes. The easiest way for an outsider to understand the airline’s safety culture is to read accident investigation reports on how it failed. This is hardly positive advertising. Would it be possible for airlines to utilize their safety culture in a more proactive way?