Fewer airline crashes occurred around the world in 2009 than during the previous year, but deaths were up, an industry group said Thursday.
There were 18 fatal airline accidents last year compared with 23 fatal accidents in 2008, the International Air Transport Association said. However, there were 685 fatalities in 2009 compared with 502 the previous year, the association said. Those numbers include both jet and turboprop planes.
The major accident rate for 2009 — 0.7 accidents per million flights — was the second lowest ever and is more than a third lower than the rate 10 years ago, the association said. The rate is based on Western-built jets destroyed, substantially damaged or written off as losses by air carriers.
Three accidents accounted for most of the deaths:
— Air France Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean en route from Brazil to France with 228 people aboard on June 1. French authorities announced Wednesday that they will begin a new $13 million search for the remains of the Airbus A330.
— A Yemenia Airways Airbus A310 crashed into the Indian Ocean off the Comoros Islands on June 30, killing 152 people on board. A 12-year-old girl clinging to debris survived.
— A Russian-made jetliner bound for Armenia crashed in northwest Iran shortly after taking off from Tehran on July 15. All 168 people on board were killed.
The annual number of deaths has fluctuated over the past decade, peaking in 2005 at 1,035, the association said.
The best news is that the current accident rate is only about half what it was in the 1990s, thanks in part to technology advancements, said Jim Burin, director of technical programs at the Flight Safety Foundation, an international aviation safety organization in Alexandria, Va.
Pilots flying planes into the ground were once the top cause of airline crashes, but widespread use of improved warning systems that alert pilots in time to correct the aircraft's course have all but eliminated those kinds of accidents, he said.
Similarly, another kind of warning system alerts pilots if a plane is on course to collide with another airliner and gives directions on which way to turn to avoid the collision. That has dramatically decreased midair collisions, Burin said.
The disturbing trend in the data is that almost all the improvement in the accident rate took place in the first half of the past decade, Burin said.
"The last half we basically haven't improved at all," he said. "It's been pretty static."
On the Net:
International Air Transport Association: http://www.iata.org/
Flight Safety Foundation: http://www.flightsafety.org
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