There is a widespread belief, at least within Australia, that Qantas has, or had, an above-average safety record. For example, AirlineRatings.com recently listed Qantas as the world's safest airline, which was reported on by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media. Personally speaking, it seems like aircraft incidents with Qantas or JetStar get more coverage than those involving other airlines, but I can't verify that.

I'm skeptical of the belief that Qantas has an above-average safety record, let alone being the safest airline in the world.

From the Wikipedia article List of Qantas fatal accidents, I know that Qantas hasn't had any fatal jet airliner incidents, and the last accident it had was in 1951. However, I don't know whether aircraft accidents are so rare that an airline can have a better average than others because of chance alone.

I'm not doubting that some countries have safer airlines than others. If offered the choice between Qantas and Air Koryo, I'd definitely choose the former. I also don't doubt that some countries are safer to fly in than others - for example, planes in Australia don't have to deal with snow very often. However, I don't expect that to be a major factor. So I'm ultimately interested in a comparison between Qantas and airlines from countries that are comparable to Australia.

Did Qantas have a perception of having an extraordinary safety record before the 1988 movie Rain Man, where the titular character said that Qantas never crashed?

Is there enough data to say that Qantas is the safest airline in the world, or even say that it's safer than similar airlines, such as the ones Raymond refused to get on in the movie?

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    $\begingroup$ This question asks deliberately for opinions (e.g. Is there enough data to say that Qantas is the safest airline in the world), without listing unquestionable criteria. In addition the way it's written makes the question looking like a statement on Quanta's quality more than a way to satisfy curiosity or a practical need. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 2 '15 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @mins Perhaps just sceptical and does not want to trust the 'opinion' presented to him. Not everybody knows or understands such criteria either, leading to an opinion in some capacity being necessary from somebody who may know. I agree it's not a perfect objective question but I think it's a legitimate query. $\endgroup$ – Thunderstrike Aug 2 '15 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Accidents are so rare, that the underlying statistics are not useful. Imagine 20 airlines with no accidents. Now one has an accident, not it's fault, let's say multiple bird strikes. Now it's safety record is infinitely worse than the others. I think the most accurate statement you can make is that all of the major western airlines have an equally good safety record. $\endgroup$ – Simon Aug 2 '15 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon: True. I'd add that the "safest", in spite of appearances, is the one that anticipates problems and try to prevent them by maintenance, training, and keeping crews dedicated. This is not something advertised. The safest is not the one that never had accidents. No accident in the past is a measure of the past, prevention is telling for the future. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 2 '15 at 10:00

Defining and Measuring 'Safety'

These ranking depends how you define safety. Here is your problem: You can easily do this by widely publicised facts, such as well documented fatal accidents. Fatal accidents occur much much too seldom to with any statistical confidence to say how safe an airline is.

What you would much rather do is go by accidents and incidents (the little things that occur everyday and give you a feeling for how stuff is done and handled). For instance: hydraulic leaks, loss of separation to other aircraft or electrical problems prompting a return. A small selection of these are reported on the popular site Aviation Herald, but this is (emphasis) only a small subset that happen to come through. Some western countries with the objectively the best safety are over-reported since they are just better at documenting. You'll find heaps of entries on 'fume events' on Airbus aircraft from Germany for instance.

These are considerably harder to collect, since how they are classified and reported changes by country and aviation agency. Some publish for common good, other ones barely collect them. For this reason, the way these 'rankings' do it is by fatal accidents and other easy to get parameters. This is eventually what comes through to newspaper sites with little detail on how they were put together.

The parameters measured by AirlineReports:

  • Is the airline IOSA certified?
  • Is the airline on the European Union (EU) Blacklist?
  • Has the airline maintained a fatality free record for the past 10 years?
  • Is the airline FAA endorsed?
  • Does the country of airline origin meet all 8 ICAO safety parameters?
  • Has the airline's fleet been grounded by the country's governing aviation safety authority due to safety concerns?
  • Does the airline operate only Russian built aircraft?

Most of these are bare minimums that can be expected from an airline, but do not really go to any distance to show who stands out. For any more detailed sense and purposes (how media are using it), I'd call this useless.

Also note that this does not include the liability question for fatal accidents- who was at fault? You can finally also (albeit unlikely) have a completely safe airline that does not have a single certification.


Qantas has had two very serious incidents with a Boeing 747 and A380. They also had a serious incident on involving A330 losing altitude. This does not really IMHO award them as the 'safest airline' for the past few years, since this is considerably more than a lot of other airlines have experienced.

However, for all practical sense and purposes, they are as safe as any other airline. The chances of anything happening are just so incredibly remote that it's not worth the trouble of thinking about it. Getting a connecting flight to fly with another airline will probably be less safe than just flying them directly.

As for the maintenance matters, Qantas owns JetStar and they appear to use the same maintenance facility for their aircraft. A further difference is the training where there appear to be overlaps as well, so there are only small differences on perhaps the most important parameters differing the two.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that the main criteria for inclusion in EU blacklist seems to be lack of governmental oversight. EASA does not really have enough information to judge individual airlines operating outside its region of authority. All they can is review materials published by the overseeing authority. So the EU blacklist in most cases says “all airlines in country X”, sometimes with exception of some large international ones that have enough interaction with other, more trustworthy authorities. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Aug 3 '15 at 7:28

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