Many years in the 2010s have not been good for aviation, at least not from a PR perspective. From the botched landing of Asiana flight 214 in late 2013, to the fatal crashes of not one, but two Malaysia Airlines 777s in 2014, to the tragic loss at sea of an Indonesia AirAsia plane later that year, it seems like there's a major plane crash every time you turn on the news.
The good news is that in spite of how dangerous flying might seem to be, global aviation safety continues to improve, overall, year-over-year. The bad news? None of the world's most dangerous airlines make headlines, which means you may inadvertently board one of their planes without knowing.
Although Indonesia AirAsia has come under a great deal of scrutiny since flight QZ8501 crashed in late 2014, it is not Indonesia's most dangerous, even if its overall safety rating prevents it from ever flying to the United States or European Union, a ban shared by fellow Indonesian carriers Garuda Indonesia, KALstar Aviation and Sriwijaya Air.
No, that dubious honor goes to Lion Air, who has suffered many hull losses during its time in operation, although only one of them ever made major headlines. On the other hand, the only thing more dangerous than Lion Air's safety record are its low fares, which are incredibly hard to resist.
It's difficult not to have empathy for pilots who land jets in Nepal, what with the Himalayas being there and all – some planes are bound to be less lucky than others. This is unfortunately true not only anecdotally but in reality, with Nepal Airlines in particular being among the world's most dangerous airlines.
Having experienced nearly a dozen fatal accidents in the past three decades, in spite of a relatively modest flight schedule, Nepal Airlines gets just one star (out of a potential seven) from AirlineRatings.com, a site which ranks airline safety using a number of metrics.
The inclusion of Nepal Airlines among the world's most dangerous airlines is particularly interesting when you consider it doesn't fly to the Himalayan airport of Lukla, which many consider to be the world's most dangerous airport, and is a necessary stop en route to Everest Base Camp.
The only thing less likely than having heard about Kam Air is having the opportunity (or need, as it were) to fly it – based in Afghanistan, Kam Air is not an airline the average backpacker would fly these days, unless that backpack is owned by the U.S. military. Kam Air has only been in operation for a decade, but has already experienced fatal accidents resulting in more than 100 passenger deaths, making it one of the most dangerous airlines in the world.
Tara Air maintains just as low a profile, internationally speaking, as Kam Air, although it operates in Nepal instead of Afghanistan. Although only one Tara Air flight has resulted in passenger fatalities, the airline has only existed for six years, which raises serious questions about its overall safety.
Tara Air is relatively easy for most travelers to avoid, since it operates exclusively to rural destinations in Nepal, but if you want to explore the foothills of the Himalaya, and don't have the time to endure the long overland journey from Kathmandu, you may find yourself with little choice but to fly Tara Air, which is a particularly scary prospect if you happen to be flying from Kathmandu to Lukla, the aforementioned ultra-dangerous Himalayan airport from which all Everest Base Camp treks (and treks to lower-elevation destinations in the mountains) begin.
Kazakhstan-based SCAT Airlines' name doesn't do it any favors, even if you except the fact that its name is an acronym for something rather innocuous: "Special Cargo Air Transport." Unfortunately, SCAT's air record is just as smelly as what you think of when you first hear its name, but not because of how many fatal crashes it's suffered (just one) since it began operations in 1997.
Rather, the European Commission's decision to blacklist SCAT stems from an overall lack of confidence in its regulatory processes, which has spilled over onto other Kazakh airlines. If your travel plans will soon take you to Kazakhstan, you might want to fly a more reputable airline, such as Air Astana.