World's safest ... Finnair pilots in the cockpit.

World's safest ... Finnair pilots in the cockpit.

Finland's national carrier, Finnair, has been named the world's safest airline by a European group of airline safety enthusiasts.

Air New Zealand was named the second-safest airline in the world, with Virgin Australia coming in at number nine. Qantas was ranked 13th and Jetstar 20th.

The Germany-based Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre, or JACDEC, calculates its annual rankings based on aircraft loss accidents and serious incidents where an accident nearly occurred over the past 30 years.

The resulting Safety Index relates the accidents to the revenue per passenger kilometre [RPK] performed by the airline over the same time.

None of the top nine ranked airlines had lost an aircraft or had a fatality during the 30-year period, but many had also not been active for the full 30 years.

Cathay Pacific ranked third, followed by Emirates and then Etihad Airways which was only established in 2003.

Qantas ranked 13th despite a similarly clean aircraft loss record since 1983. However, JACDEC director Jan Richter said Qantas had experienced multiple incidents where a serious accident had nearly occurred in recent years.

"While in the recent years Qantas experienced multiple of these type of incidents, Air New Zealand and Finnair remained mostly free of them," Richter said.

JACDEC had not published its data on the so-called serious incidents, which Richter said had less of a weighting on the Safety Index than aircraft loss accidents and fatalities.

Air New Zealand's chief flight operations and safety officer, David Morgan, said the recognition was testament to the airline's dedication to maintaining a strong safety culture.

"Safety is paramount and non-negotiable at Air New Zealand," Morgan said.

"We have worked hard as an airline to create a safety culture which has been embraced by more than 10,000 employees and it's very pleasing to have been recognised by an external agency."

The index data does not go as far back as New Zealand's worst airline disaster in 1979 when Air New Zealand flight TE901 crashed into Antarctica's Mount Erebus killing 257 passengers and crew.

It also leaves out the loss of three pilots, three engineers and an aviation inspector when an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 plunged into the Mediterranean Sea in November 2008 on a test flight before rejoining the airline's commercial fleet.

Taiwan-based China Airlines comes in at 60th place in the rankings with eight aircraft losses and 755 deaths since 1983, including the death of 264 passengers and crew during a crash on landing at Japan's Nagoya Airport in 1994.

World's top 10 safest airlines

1. Finnair

2. Air New Zealand

3. Cathay Pacific

4. Emirates

5. Etihad Airways

6. Eva Air

7. TAP Portugal

8. Hainan Airlines

9. Virgin Australia

10. British Airways

The bottom 10

51. SkyWest Airlines

52. South African Airways

53. Thai Airways

54. Turkish Airlines

55. Saudia

56. Korean Air

57. GOL Transportes Aéreos

58. Air India

59. TAM Airlines

60. China Airlines

Source: Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre

Fairfax NZ News/stuff.co.nz