Is British Airways Safe? (Yes, It Is.)

As a British Citizen, I’ve flown on British Airways aircraft quite a lot, both long-haul and short-haul. I don’t have any concerns or worries when I fly with British Airways, and I think British Airways is a safe airline to fly with.

In the article below, I explain why this is the case and hopefully provide sufficient information for you to also reach the same conclusion.

Is British Airways Safe?

British Airways Operates a Modern Fleet

Understandably, people may get concerned when they realize that the airline they are flying with operates old aircraft. However, aircraft safety is not so much about aircraft age, it’s more about the airline’s aircraft maintenance regime. Older aircraft are perfectly safe if they are properly and regularly maintained.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the British Airways fleet to try and put any concerns to rest.

British Airways has a large mixed fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, primarily comprising the Airbus A319, A320, A321, A350, and A380, and Boeing 777 and 787 (Dreamliner).

According to the average weighted age of the British Airways fleet is 12.9 years. By weighted I mean that has looked at the average age and the number of each aircraft type and has calculated the total average fleet age based on this data.

The average British Airways aircraft ages by aircraft type are shown in the table below. We can see that there is quite a range of ages across the different aircraft types, with British Airways’ A319s being the oldest type, with an average of 19.8 years. British Airways’ oldest A319 was delivered in 1999. British Airways’ youngest aircraft types are its A321s and A350s.  

Aircraft Number of Aircraft Average Age
Airbus A319 30 19.8
Airbus A320 78 12.4
Airbus A321 10 2.6
Airbus A350 8 2
Airbus A380 9 8
Boeing 777 57 17.9
Boeing 787 32 5.8
Total 224 12.9

So, is an average fleet age of 12.9 years considered “young” or “old?”

The operating life of a modern jet aircraft depends on the number of “cycles” it operates. Aircraft operating a lot of short-haul cycles can become life expired more quickly than aircraft that operate fewer longer-haul cycles. But as a ‘rule of thumb’ airlines can typically expect aircraft to last for up to 30 years if they are properly and regularly maintained.

So, with an average aircraft age of almost 13 years, British Airways’ aircraft still have a lot of operational life left in them.

An average fleet age of 12 or 13 years is quite typical for a major international airline and compares well to other similar airlines. For example, Lufthansa’s average fleet age is 10.5 years, United Airlines’ is 16.5 years, and Air France’s is 14.3 years.

British Airways Boeing 777

British Airways Is IOSA-Certified and a Member of the Oneworld Alliance provides a comparison of the world’s airlines from a number of different perspectives; British Airways has its highest possible, seven-star safety rating which means the following:

  • British Airways is IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified. This audit is optional and assesses whether an airline has the necessary systems and processes in place to operate safely. Airlines are evaluated every two years.
  • British Airways is not blacklisted in the European Union or the United States.
  • The UK performs favorably in ICAO Country Audits which assess a nation’s approach to airline safety oversight and regulation. British Airways is safety regulated by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the UK’s IATA Safety Audit results are very good with effective implementation in the range of 80-100% for the eight areas audited, well above the global average.
  • British Airways has not suffered any fatal accidents within the last 10 years.

In addition to the above, British Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance, one of the world’s three major airline alliances. Whilst membership of a major airline alliance is not a safety certification per se, it’s still a significant stamp of approval for the airline’s approach to safety and operations.

Other Oneworld member airlines include Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qantas, and Malaysia Airlines.

British Airways Airbus A320

British Airways Incidents and Accidents

Similar to many large airlines that have had a long operational history and that operate a large fleet, British Airways’ safety record is not spotlessly clean. If we look at British Airways incidents (excluding events such as hijackings, or lightning strikes) within the last fifty years we see five, two of which were fatal.

The two fatal accidents were in 1976 and 1985:

Date Aircraft Location Commentary
September 1976 Trident Near Zagreb, Yugoslavia A British Airtours (a British Airways subsidiary company) Trident was involved in a mid-air collision with a Inex Adria DC9. All of the British Airtours 9 crew members and 54 passengers were killed, and all 5 crew members and 108 passengers on the DC9 were also killed. The probable cause of this event was failure of the Yugoslavian ATC system to provide adequate separation, so it appears that British Airtours was not at fault.
August 1985 B737-200 Manchester Airport, UK The crew rejected the takeoff due to an uncontained engine failure. The failure led to a punctured fuel tank and a fire that spread to the cabin. The accident killed 53 of 131 passengers and two of six crew members.

The other non-fatal incidents worth noting are as follows:

Date Aircraft Location Commentary
June 1982 B747-200 Near Jakarta, Indonesia The B747-200, enroute from London to Auckland, inadvertently flew into a volcanic ash cloud, damaging all four engines. The aircraft flew briefly without power. The flight crew was able to restart the engines after gliding out of the dust cloud. The aircraft made an uneventful emergency landing in Jakarta and none of the 15 crew members or 248 passengers onboard were injured.
January 2008 B777-200ER Heathrow Airport, London The 777 touched down about 1,000ft short of the runway and skidded, dislodging the landing gear. The aircraft came to a rest on the runway pavement just to the right of the runway end. There were at least two serious injuries – a broken leg and a concussion – but there were no fatalities among the 16 crew members and 136 passengers.
September 2015 B777-200 McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas The 777’s left engine failed and caught fire prior to takeoff. All of the aircraft occupants were able to exit the aircraft, but the engine fire damaged the left fuselage structure, and inboard left wing. There were no fatalities among the 13 crew members and 158 passengers.

Summary: Is Flying with British Airways Safe?

Yes, it is, and while it has had some incidents over the last 50 years or so, there have been no fatal accidents within the last 10 years.

British Airways operates with safety protocols and procedures that are endorsed by its IOSA certification. It is also overseen by the UK’s CAA which scores above the global average in ICAO’s Country Audits.

British Airways is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, transporting tens of millions of passengers each year safely. So, I think it’s fair to say that British Airways is a safe airline to fly with.

If you are wondering what flying with British Airways is like in terms of service, check the reviews below:

1 thought on “Is British Airways Safe? (Yes, It Is.)”

  1. The Zagreb accident was British Airways main line and not British Airtours.
    British Airtours never operated the Trident.

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