Happy New Year, everyone! It has been a thundery, sweltering start to 2021 down here in Auckland. We have been experiencing humid, hot days with intense downpours followed by clear skies and burning sunshine (the latter is normal down here unfortunately, thanks to the depleted ozone layer).

Understandably then, the beaches have been very popular, and especially so this year with all of our domestic tourist dollars going to New Zealand destinations rather than to overseas ones. Most campgrounds and beaches have been booked for months, which has helped to alleviate somewhat the collapse of our international tourist market (due to the response to you-know-what).

Part and parcel of that tourism collapse in 2020 was the collapse of the airline industry. According to tracking site Flightradar 24, the number of commercial flights last year fell by 42 percent. Not surprising figures perhaps, except that I thought that the drop would be steeper than that.

What is surprising is that, despite the number of commercial flights in 2020 nearly halving from the year before, the number of people killed flying commercially in 2020 actually increased to 299 people (an increase from 257 in 2019). This is according to Dutch aviation consultancy To70.

Those figures of course mean that not only did we have to worry about COVID-19 in 2020, but we also had to worry about flying being twice as deadly as the year before. But once you drill down into the number of fatal accidents in 2020, you can see that they fell by more than half when compared to 2019 (40 vs 86). This means that the chances of the plane you were flying on in 2020 being involved in a fatal air crash were less than in 2019.

But it also means that, if you were to be involved in a fatal air crash last year, the crash would be deadlier than the year before. In fact, 2020’s figures are inflated by two incidents from the first half of the year — the PIA crash in Karachi in May which killed 98 people and the shooting down of the Ukrainian International Airlines flight by the Iranians in January.

(Do you remember that later incident? It was just after Soleimani was blown up by the USA and we were going to have WWIII? Around the time that Trump was impeached? Ringing any bells? At all…? No? Oh well, a lot has happened since then… Actually the best thing about COVID-inspired amnesia is we have all forgotten about the last Boxing Day test at the MCG that I had the misfortune of attending.)

So without the trigger-happy Iranians, 2020 would probably have been about as deadly in the air as it had been in 2019 (as a proportion of commercial flights taken). The concern now is that the lack of flights in 2020 will have a “significant” impact on the performance of air crews in the future as the number of flights hopefully increases. To70 warns that “skill fade” is a “critical issue” for the industry as normal flying comes back. Let us hope that this skill fade does not lead to more flying deaths: would they be counted as COVID-related, I wonder?

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...