Is Malaysia Airlines Safe? (Yes, It Is.)

Malaysia Airlines is infamous for two very tragic events in 2014 – one remains a complete mystery with the cause still unknown and the other was an act of international aggression against the Malaysia Airlines aircraft.

Whilst we can’t ignore these two tragedies, they do need to be put into context as two unrelated and shocking events that were not directly caused by failures in Malaysia Airlines’ aircraft maintenance or safety procedures.

Aside from these two events, Malaysia Airlines’ safety record is reasonably good and is comparable to other large airlines. Today, Malaysia Airlines operate a modern fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. If I had the option to fly Malaysia Airlines, I would not have any concerns. 

Is Malaysia Airlines Safe?

Malaysia Airlines Operates a Modern Fleet

If you’re flying Malaysia Airlines and you equate safety with aircraft age then there’s some good news for you – Malaysia Airlines’ aircraft fleet is pretty modern comprising A330, A350, and 737 aircraft.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to that point of view because to me aircraft safety is not so much about aircraft age, it’s more about the airline’s aircraft maintenance regime, the airline’s own safety policies and protocols, and the level of safety regulation and oversight at the national level. Older aircraft are perfectly safe if they are properly and regularly maintained. They can safely operate for 30 years or more when they are subject to regular and skilled maintenance checks.

Anyway, it’s still interesting to take a look into the Malaysia Airlines fleet and make some comparisons with other national airlines. According to the overall average weighted age of the Malaysia Airlines fleet is 9.5 years. The average Malaysia Airlines aircraft ages by aircraft type are shown in the table below.

Malaysia Airlines’ A330s are its oldest aircraft type, with an average of 10.9 years. Malaysia Airlines’ oldest A330 was delivered in 2011 and its youngest in 2018. Malaysia Airlines’ youngest aircraft type is its A350s delivered at the end of 2017 and in 2018.  

Aircraft Number of Aircraft Average Age/ years
A330 24 10.9
A350 6 4.1
737 59 9.5
Total 89 9.5

Malaysia Airlines’ average fleet age of 9.5 years compares well to other major international airlines. Based on data a range of average fleet ages for international airlines is given in the table below:

Airline Average Fleet Age
Air France 14.3
Lufthansa 10.5
United Airlines 16.5
British Airways 12.9
Cathay Pacific 7.5
Qantas 12.7
Emirates 8.4

Malaysia Airlines 737

Malaysia Airlines Is IOSA-Certified and a Member of the oneworld Alliance provides a comparison of the world’s airlines from a number of different perspectives. In its rating, Malaysia Airlines scores only 3 stars out of a possible 7 stars, which has been achieved based on the following:

  • Malaysia Airlines is IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified. This audit is optional and, every two years, assesses whether an airline has the necessary systems and processes in place to operate safely.
  • Malaysia Airlines is not blacklisted in the European Union or the United States.
  • Malaysia performs reasonably well in ICAO Country Audits which assess a nation’s approach to airline safety oversight and regulation. Malaysia’s civil aviation industry is safety regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM). CAAM’s IATA Safety Audit results are good with effective implementation in the range of 80-85% for seven of the eight areas audited, which matches or exceeds the global averages for these areas, but is below the global average in one area.

The ‘missing’ 4 stars are the result of the following:

  • Malaysia Airlines has suffered fatal accidents within the last 10 years (minus 3 stars). I explore this topic in more detail later in this article.
  • com makes no comment on Malaysia Airlines’ approach to COVID-19 mitigation (minus 1 star).

One other thing worth mentioning is that Malaysia Airlines 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 American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Qantas.  

Malaysia Airlines Incidents and Accidents

Firstly, let’s address Malaysia Airlines’ disaster year, 2014, when it suffered two major fatal disasters:

  • On March 8, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines 777 was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared from radar screens and went missing, probably somewhere over the Indian Ocean. This incident remains a mystery, speculation on the cause of this incident is rife, but no official findings have been made. All 239 persons on board are presumed dead.
  • On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines 777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down from the ground over Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew on board perished.

Both of these incidents were very unfortunate and did serious harm to Malaysia Airlines’ reputation.

The first of these simply cannot be explained, whereas the second seems to have been an act of international aggression, and therefore Malaysia Airlines was not directly at fault, except to say that at the point of last contact the aircraft was flying 1,000 ft above airspace that had been classified as restricted by Ukrainian authorities as a result of ongoing fighting in the area.

Malaysia Airlines 777 Accident

Other than these two incidents there has been one other fatal accident involving a Malaysia Airlines aircraft.

In 1995, a Fokker 50 flying from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau touched down on the runway and bounced multiple times, with the final touchdown only approx. 800 feet from the end of the runway. The aircraft overran the runway and crashed into a shantytown approx. 1,600 feet beyond the end of the runway. Thirty-four of the fifty-three occupants onboard died in the accident. 

Malaysia Airlines’ other non-fatal incidents in the last 30 years or so are as follows:

Date Aircraft Location Commentary
May 1992 DHC-6 Twin Otter Sibu Airport On approach, the aircraft veered to the right into a bushy area. The aircraft sustained damage to its undercarriage. One passenger was injured.
September 1992 Fokker 50 Sibu Airport On touchdown, smoke was observed from the aircraft’s main landing gear. After rolling around 600 m down the runway, the aircraft veered to the left and exited the runway, coming to a stop around 40 m away from the runway after the nose section had broken through the airport perimeter fence.
November 1996 MD-11 Buenos Aires, Ezeiza-Ministro Pistarini Airport On approach, the pilot performed a ‘go around’ and on the second approach, the aircraft touched down at 1,200-1,500 m beyond the runway threshold on a wet runway and failed to stop running onto the grass 50 m beyond the end of the runway.
January 1998 DHC-6 Twin Otter Limbang Airport The aircraft landed slightly past the normal touchdown point, then bounced twice before skidding and overrunning the runway and crashing into a drain.
March 2000 A330 Kuala Lumpur International Airport After arrival from a flight from Beijing, baggage handlers were unloading canisters when they were hit by strong toxic fumes, and five staff became ill. The canisters contained a toxic chemical, and several had leaked, causing severe damage to the aircraft fuselage; the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
June 2014 A330F Astana International Airport The A330 freighter sustained damage to the wing after colliding with an airfield lighting mast. 
March 2015 A330 Melbourne-Tullamarine Airport Under pilot control during landing, the aircraft approached the runway fast and low resulting in a hard landing in excess of the aircraft’s design loadings. Parts of the aircraft were damaged but there were no injuries.
April 2017 737 Sibu Airport The aircraft veered to the right of the runway and traveled approximately 480 m on soft ground parallel to the runway before the nose gear collapsed and the aircraft came to a stop.
All passengers and crew were safely evacuated, and there were no injuries. 

Summary: Is Flying with Malaysia Airlines Safe?

I would say, flying with Malaysia Airlines is safe. Whilst not ignoring what happened in 2014, if we set these events aside on the basis of their very unusual circumstances, Malaysia Airlines’ safety record is reasonable for a large airline that has had a long operational history and that operates a large fleet of aircraft.

Malaysia Airlines operates with safety protocols and procedures that are endorsed by its IATA IOSA certification and is overseen by Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Authority which scores well in ICAO’s Country Audits.

I chose to fly Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland, New Zealand in August 2014, which was shortly after Malaysia Airlines’ two disasters that year. I am not a nervous flyer, and whilst safety issues did cross my mind, I was not worried at all, and I enjoyed the flight!

3 thoughts on “Is Malaysia Airlines Safe? (Yes, It Is.)”

  1. This is inaccurate. They made an extremely poor decision to fly over Ukraine when other airlines were actively avoiding the country because they knew it was at war. That neglect directly resulted in the loss of life. It wasn’t some random event.

    1. That is not true, the airspace above 32,000 feet was open to passenger flights and many airlines used the exact airspace on the day of the crash. A Singapore Airlines flight from Copenhagen to Singapore was only minutes behind MH17 and minutes ahead of MH17 was a Virgin Atlantic aircraft.

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