• Technology’s contribution to aviation safety

Four generations of jet

The huge reduction in accident rate in aviation has been achieved by a long and ongoing commitment by our industry to place safety at the heart of its mission. Whilst a significant part of this success is due to effective regulation and a strong safety culture and improvements in training, advances in technology have also been a critical element. Aircraft systems technology in particular has been conscientiously evolved with safety in mind.

The first generation of jets were designed in the 1950s & ‘60s with systems technologies which were limited in their capabilities by the analogue electronics of the era. A second generation of jet aircraft with improved auto-flight systems, quickly appeared.

The third generation of jets was introduced in the early 1980s. This generation took advantage of digital technologies to introduce ‘glass cockpits’ with Navigation Displays and Flight Management Systems (FMS). Combined with improved navigation performance capabilities as well as Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), these capabilities were key to reducing Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents. 

The fourth and latest generation of civil aircraft was introduced in 1988 with the Airbus A320. Fourth generation aircraft use Fly-By-Wire (FBW) technology with Flight Envelope Protection functions. This additional protection helps to protect against Loss Of Control Inflight (LOC-I) accidents. FBW technology is now the industry standard and is used on all currently produced Airbus models, the Boeing B777 & B787, Embraer E-Jets, Sukhoi Superjet and the Mitsubishi MRJ.

1

Early commercial jets

From 1952

Dials & guages in cockpit, Early auto-flight systems

Comet, Caravelle, BAC-111, Trident, VC-10, 707, 720, DC-8, Convair 880/890

2

More Integrated auto-flight

From 1964

More elaborate auto-pilot and auto-throttle systems

Concorde, A300B2/B4, Mercure,
F-28, BAe146, VFW 614 727,
737-100 & -200,
747-100/200/300/SP, L-1011,
DC-9, DC-10

3

Glass cockpits & FMS

From 1980

Electronic cockpit displays, improved navigation performance and Terrain Avoidance Systems, to reduce CFIT accidents

A300-600, A310, Avro RJ, F-70, F-100, 328JET, 717, 737 Classic & NG/MAX, 757, 767, 747-400/-8, Bombardier CRJ, Embraer ERJ, MD-80, MD-90

4

Fly-by-wire

From 1988

Fly-by-wire technology enabled fight envelope protection, to reduce LOC-I accidents

A220, A318/A319/A320/A321, A330, A340, A350, A380 777, 787, Embraer E-Jets

Comparison of accident rates by generation of aircraft provides a clear illustration of the value of our industry’s investments in technology for Safety.

Studying the statistics over the life of each generation of jets shows that an 85% reduction in fatal CFIT accidents has been achieved between the second and third generation of jets. In addition to this achievement, the fourth generation of jets has added a 75% reduction in fatal LOC-I accidents compared to the third generation. These are great achievements, which we can properly put into context by studying the overall reduction in the fatal accident rate per generation.

The lowest sustained fatal accident rate of first generation jets was around 3.0 accidents per million flights, whilst for the second generation it was around 0.7, meaning a reduction of fatal accidents of almost 80% between generations. In comparison, third generation jets now achieve about 0.2 accidents per million flights, a reduction of around a further 70%.

Finally, fourth generation jets have the lowest accident rate of all, at a stable average rate of about 0.1 fatal accidents per million flights, which is a further 50% reduction compared to the third generation.

10 year moving average fatal accident rate by aircraft generation

 
10 year moving average fatal accident rate by aircraft generation

10 year moving average hull-loss rate by aircraft generation

 
10 year moving average hull-loss rate by aircraft generation

Yearly number of flights by aircraft generation

Airbus aircraft flew 78% of the flights made by fourth generation jets in 2018

In 2018, nearly 35 million flight departures were made globally. Of these, 17.6 million were made by fourth generation jets, of which Airbus models accounted for 13.7 million.

Yearly number of flights by aircraft generation millions per year

 
Yearly number of flights by aircraft generation millions per year

Industry status at end 2018

Aircraft in-service

Total accumulated flight cycles (million)

Flight cycles in 2016 (million)

Generation 1

3

40.6

0.0

Generation 2

230

254.7

0.2

Generation 3

12,043

394.0

17.2

Generation 4

13,696

181.9

17.6

Industry status at end 2018

Aircraft in-service

Total accumulated flight cycles (million)

Flight cycles in 2016 (million)

Generation 3

12,043

394.0

17.2

Generation 4

13,696

181.9

17.6