How safe is that airline?

Of the 81 WAM non-preferred airlines operating for more than two years, the greatest number (23) are in the Asia-Pacific region, with seven of those airlines based in Indonesia, following a recent string of fatal accidents in that country. There are 19 non-preferred airlines in Africa, 14 in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and six each in the Middle East, South America, and Central America/Mexico. Only one airline in North America and one in Western Europe are on the non-preferred list and both of those airlines were grounded due to finances.

Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) is one of ten iJet customers currently using WAM to assess airline risk. ADM has operations in 60 countries on six continents, according to Mark Cheviron, Director of Security and Services. Using iJet's new product, "we can make informed decisions concerning which airlines we as a company – and more importantly, our employees – choose to travel with," says Cheviron.

ADM usually uses WAM twice per week to evaluate international trips. Because WAM can be tied to a corporation's travel booking tool, ADM also receives automatic notifications whenever an employee books a flight on a non-preferred airline.

Although WAM assigns preferred or non-preferred status to every airline, customers may review an airline's score on each individual criterion and make their own assessment. Cheviron says ADM doesn't necessarily exclude an airline if it fails to satisfy one of the many evaluation criteria. "We look at a number of factors in making that determination," he says. "What would concern us most is if an airline receives high risk ratings across a number of categories, as opposed to being weak in just one or two."

"If an airline is lacking in certifications, runs an older fleet and recently had some questionable changes in management, I think it would raise more flags than if the airline experienced a single incident in the past 10 years," says Cheviron.

If a traveler books a trip on a non-preferred airline, ADM's corporate travel team will research alternative travel options to fit the traveler's schedule and will work with the employee to adjust the itinerary as needed.

WAM is an add-on to iJet's Worldcue Travel Risk Management solution, which automatically relates global threats and incidents to travelers' itineraries to help them avoid potential difficulties, according to iJet's President, Bruce McIndoe. An annual subscription fee of $2,000 provides customers unlimited access to WAM, if they are already Worldcue Travel Risk Management subscribers.

"Prior to the new iJET service, we relied on a variety of data sources to compile information about questionable airlines," Cheviron told me.

Even with an extensive database of 354 airlines, WAM still doesn't cover all of the world's airlines. The Sabre Travel Network, used by many travel agencies, lists flight information for over 400 airlines. But iJet will add new airlines to WAM upon a customer's request.

Of course even the most extensive research is no guarantee against an accident on any airline – witness the recent accident of a British Airways Boeing 777 at London's Heathrow Airport. But it certainly feels better to be informed when flying to a far off land on an unknown airline.

Read previous columns

Send David your feedback: David Grossman is a veteran business traveler and former airline industry executive. He writes a column every other week on topics of interest and concern to business travelers. E-mail him at travel@usatoday.com.

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