Last updated: 03:39 PM ET, Wed March 25 2015

Why a Low-Cost Airline Doesn’t Always Mean Low Safety

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | March 25, 2015

Why a Low-Cost Airline Doesn’t Always Mean Low Safety

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Until Tuesday’s tragedy, it’s a good bet the few people outside of Europe had ever heard of Germanwings, the airline whose flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard.

Nor had few probably ever heard of Airasia, which suffered its own tragedy in December when a flight crashed en route from Indonesia to Singapore.

In both instances, media reports identified – correctly, by the way – that the airlines were “low-cost” or “low-budget” carriers. The natural assumptions have followed that low-cost must equal low-safety.

That would be a gigantic, and incorrect, leap.

The low-cost carriers are flying the same types of aircraft as larger, so-called mainstream airlines. They are subject to the same rigorous safety inspections and standards. In many cases, they are actually owned or affiliated with bigger, more established and well-known carriers – Germanwings, for instance is a subsidiary of Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest airline. Scoot Airlines in Asia is owned by Singapore Air, by way of another example.

Low-cost carriers are perhaps more aptly named no-frills airlines – just as in the United States with Spirit Airlines, the cost of an airline ticket is kept relatively low due to the fact that everything beyond that, even a bottle of water, is an extra charge.

However, Les Abend, CNN’s aviation analyst, said “Low-cost carriers are low-cost because they don’t pay as much to the crew, and it doesn’t attract a higher level of experienced pilot. It doesn’t mean they’re an unsafe pilot, it means they may have less experience.”

On the flip side, many low-cost carriers have the financial flexibility to fly newer, more modern, more efficient planes.

That the Germanwings and Airasia tragedies happened to low-budget airlines seems merely a coincidence at this point. After all, Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, has a spotless safety record when it comes to accidents.


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