Aircraft Deaths Climbed 15% in 2010

Worldwide deaths related to commercial aircrafts rose 15% last year, overshadowing more optimistic news that global accidents involving western-built planes hit a record low.

An aviation performance study by the International Air Transport Association [IATA] said fatalities in the aviation industry totaled 786, up from 685 in 2009, led by fatal accidents in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Latin America and the Caribbean worsened their year-over-year accident rates to 1.87 this year compared with a rate of zero in 2009. While Africa’s results improved significantly to 7.41 from 9.94 in the year earlier, it continues to churn out the worst rates in the world. The global average was just 0.61, or one accident for every 1.6 million flights.

“Every fatality is a human tragedy that reminds us of the ultimate goal of zero accidents and zero fatalities,” said IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani. “Flying must be equally safe in all parts of the world. An accident rate in Africa that is over 12 times the global average is not acceptable.”

Four of Africa’s accidents involved western-built jet hulls, though IOSA noted that its member airlines, including JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK), American Airlines (NYSE:AMR), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), FedEx (NYSE:FDX), Hawaiian Airlines (NYSE:HA), US Airways (NYSE:LCC) and UPS (NYSE:UPS), performed 50% better than non-members.

There were 17 hull loss accidents involving western-built jet aircraft compared to 19 in 2009. At an average rate of 0.61, the industry was able to achieve its lowest accident rate of western-built jet aircrafts in its history, improved from 0.71 a year ago and slipping below the 0.65 booked in 2006.

“Achieving the lowest accident rate in the history of aviation shows that this commitment is bearing results,” Bisignani said. “Flying is safe.”

Accidents in airlines built in the west and east however, rose to 94 from 90 a year ago, and fatal accidents grew to 23 from 18 in 2009.

Most of the accidents were caused by runway excursions, instances when an aircraft departs the runway during takeoff or landing. Most of those accidents occurred on wet runways or were caused by an “unstable approach,” where the aircraft nears the runway either too fast, too high, or touches down beyond the desired point.

Ground damage was the second largest cause of accidents.

The IATA seeks to improve safety of the airline industry. In September, the group signed an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Commission of the European Union to launch the Global Safety Information Exchange, the first global private-public partnership that will exchange safety information aimed at improving safety and reducing risk.

“Safety is not a competitive issue -- among carriers or governments,” Bisignani said. “Improvement is in everybody’s interest.”