Major commercial plane crash deaths worldwide fall by more than 50% in 2019: Aviation consulting firm

The scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 11, 2019. The 157 people killed accounted for more than half of all deaths last year worldwide in passenger airline crashes. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The number of people killed in large commercial airplane crashes fell by more than 50 per cent in 2019 despite a high-profile Boeing 737 Max crash in Ethiopia in March, a Dutch consulting firm said on Wednesday (Jan 1).

Aviation consulting firm To70 said there were 86 accidents involving large commercial planes - including eight fatal incidents - resulting in 257 fatalities last year. In 2018, there were 160 accidents, including 13 fatal ones, resulting in 534 deaths, the firm said.

To70 said the fatal accident rate for large airplanes in commercial passenger air transport was just 0.18 fatal accident per million flights in 2019, or an average one fatal accident every 5.58 million flights, a significant improvement over 2018.

The fatality numbers include passengers, air crew such as flight attendants, and any people on the ground killed in a plane accident. Large passenger airplanes in the study are aircraft used by nearly all travellers on airlines worldwide but excludes small commuter airplanes in service, including the Cessna Caravan and some smaller turboprop airplanes, according to To70.

On Dec 23, Boeing's board said it had fired chief executive Dennis Muilenburg after a pair of fatal crashes involving the 737 Max forced it to announce it was halting output of its best-selling jetliner.

The 737 Max has been grounded since March after an October 2018 crash in Indonesia and the crash of a Max in Ethiopia in March killed a total of 346 people.

To70 said the aviation industry spent significant effort in 2019 "focusing on so-called 'future threats' such as drones".

But the Max crashes "are a reminder that we need to retain our focus on the basics that make civil aviation so safe: well-designed and well-built aircraft flown by fully informed and well-trained crews".

The Aviation Safety Network said on Wednesday that, despite the Max crash, 2019 "was one of the safest years ever for commercial aviation".

The 157 people killed in March on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accounted for more than half of all deaths last year worldwide in passenger airline crashes.

Over the last two decades, aviation deaths around the world have been falling dramatically even as travel increased. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

In 2017, aviation had its safest year on record worldwide, with only two fatal accidents involving regional turboprops that resulted in 13 deaths and no fatal crashes of passenger jets.

Last week, 12 people were killed when a Fokker 100 operated by Kazakh carrier Bek Air crashed near Almaty after take-off.

In May, a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft caught fire as it made an emergency landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, killing 41 people.

The figures do not include accidents involving military flights, training flights, private flights, cargo operations and helicopters.

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