Airlines with the worst safety records

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It seems like more and more news stories over the past decade are about plane crashes. High-profile accidents like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the AirAsia plane lost at sea in 2014, and the Boeing 737 MAX disasters in 2019 and 2020 all made headlines. While sometimes these crashes are simply unexplained accidents, oftentimes they're due to a lack of safety standards, regulations, and appropriate training.

Many of the airlines on our list are banned from U.S. or European airspace due to their lack of safety regulations, or failure to meet the standards of other countries. While airlines that fly in and out of Australia still remain relatively safe, we’d strongly advise against flying with these airlines, even if their fares are unbelievably low. Health and safety while flying should be your top priority.

AirlineRatings.com rates the best and worst airlines out of seven stars – each pick on this list has not managed to amass over 3/7 stars. The rating system considers any accidents and fatalities at fault of the airline over the last decade, country blacklists, and International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certificates. 

Lion Air

Lion Air is one of Indonesia’s biggest and youngest low-cost airlines, flying from Australia to about 40 destinations within Indonesia, Asia, and the Middle East. For most of its less than 25-year existence, Lion Air has been banned from flying to the European Union and the United States amid constant safety concerns. Its safety record is far from clean, as it’s amassed 15 serious accidents – some fatal, and some resulting in planes damaged beyond repair. 

Since the Bali crash in 2013 injured 46 passengers, Lion Air sought to prioritise its customers’ safety by obtaining a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification. This would supposedly show how well they train their pilots and maintain the aircraft’s facilities.

In 2016, the E.U lifted its ban on three major Indonesian airlines, including Lion Air, after it managed to pass a key international audit. The airline was then placed in the top safety tier, having proved the safety of its passengers was its highest priority. However, Lion Air’s safety issues still remained. 

In 2018, Lion Air had its first major accident with its new Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft, crashing into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia just 13 minutes after take-off. The incident killed all 189 passengers and crew, making it the deadliest accident involving a 737-series aircraft.

An investigation following the crash revealed that there were crucial issues with the aircraft’s design and maintenance. The lack of pilot and flight crew training and the failure of Indonesian aviation regulators to oversee design flaws and safety certification also contributed to the crash. It was also revealed that at one point, Lion Air was flying over 40 routes without government permission and oversight. 

While Lion Air does have safety issues, poor facility management, and is subject to ineffective Indonesian regulators, it doesn't help that Indonesia’s flying conditions are among the most dangerous. Torrential rain and tropical storms are some of the main culprits of runway accidents. While their fares are dirt cheap, its unreliable safety record is just not worth the risk. 

AirlineRatings.com gave Lion Air a safety rating of 2/7 stars.

Yeti Airlines

Nepal is home to 8 of 14 of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest and the Himalayas. It is notorious for sudden weather changes and hazardous conditions that even the most experienced pilot should avoid. 

Airlines built in Nepal’s mountainous regions often have shorter runways. While they're ideal for small, regional aircraft, they present a hazard for international aircraft that need a longer runway to land safely. It’s also a risky area to fly in, as pilots need to account for the thin air, strong winds, and low air density. 

Since 2000, there have been at least 21 fatal aviation accidents in Nepal, claiming the lives of over 350 passengers. 7 of these accidents saw Yeti Airlines, Nepal’s largest domestic airline, and its subsidiary Tara Air at fault. Earlier this year, a Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara claimed the lives of all 68 passengers and 4 crew members onboard. 

Even though Nepal typically performs above the global average for flight safety, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is still concerned with the country’s aviation safety standards and lack of national regulation. In April 2022, the country was given a safety audit score of 70.1% by ICAO. The worldwide average sits at 67.2%, while countries like Australia were given a score of 94.5% for their impressive attention to aviation safety. ICAO subsequently classified Nepal as a country in need of prioritised assistance so its air travel safety standards can be improved. 

Flying conditions in Nepal and in the Himalayas are treacherous, and the commitment to airline safety is not reflected in Yeti Airlines’ track record. We’d recommend looking for a different carrier or avoiding the region altogether if possible.

AirlineRatings.com no longer rates Nepali airlines, Yeti Airlines included, due to complaints over the low ratings. 

PNG Air

Papua New Guinea’s mountainous regions and impenetrable rainforests mean the only reliable way to get between the islands is air travel. Aside from numerous small, quasi-legal carriers, there are two major commercial airlines in Papua New Guinea – Air Niugini, and PNG Air. Once known as Milne Bar Air and Airlines PNG, the name change to PNG Air was part of a 2015 effort to reinvent the brand after a history of multiple fatal crashes between 1987 and 2011. 

The most notable of these crashes was Airlines PNG Flight 1600 in 2011, which crashed 20km south of Madang, catching fire and killing 28 of the 32 aboard. The airline has also seen multiple fatal accidents from mountain crashes caused by low visibility in unfavourable weather conditions.

Aside from its history with fatalities, PNG Air does not have the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification, which evaluates and assesses operational management and control systems. The aviation body ICAO also expressed significant concern about the safety and regulation of aircraft operating in Papua New Guinea. 

AirlineRatings.com gave PNG Air a safety rating of 3/7 stars.

Final word

While a plane crash is not something you can exactly avoid, you can ensure the carrier you are flying with has the appropriate safety certifications and a safety record that does not raise concerns. Do your research and trust your gut – if an airline seems unsafe, or their track record makes you feel uneasy, it's best to decide on a different carrier or location. 

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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