2009 was second safest year for air travel: IATA

GENEVA (Reuters) - Air travel recorded its second safest year in 2009, with one accident for every 1.4 million flights made in Western-built jets compared with one per 1.2 million in 2008, the industry association IATA said on Thursday.

Last year’s global accident rate equated to 0.71 aircraft hulls lost per million flights, an improvement on the 0.81 in 2008, but short of the 2006 record of 0.65, the International Air Transport Association said in a report.

IATA said the 2009 rate was a 36 percent improvement on 2000 levels.

“Having made aviation the safest way to travel, further improvements will come only with careful data analysis,” said IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani.

“We must understand the underlying safety risk trends, not just from the handful of accidents each year, but by bringing together and analyzing data from millions of safe flights.”

Bisignani said the industry had improved its safety record in a decade when airlines together lost an average $5 billion a year.

IATA, which groups about 230 airlines, said 2.3 billion people flew safely on 35 million flights in 2009.

The year saw 19 accidents involving Western-built jets after 22 in 2008, and 90 accidents for all types, eastern and western, against 109 the year before.

Of the accidents, 18 involving all aircraft types resulted in deaths against 23 in 2008. But total deaths rose to 685 from 502.

An Air France jet that crashed off the coast of Brazil last June 1, killing all 228 people on board, was among them. The search for the wreckage will resume in mid-March, French officials said on Wednesday.

Africa and the Middle East had the worst accident rates, with 9.94 and 3.32 hull losses per million flights respectively. North Asia, Latin America and the Commonwealth of Independent States had no western-built losses in 2009.

Runway incidents accounted for 26 percent of all accidents in 2009 and pilot handling was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all accidents, it said.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay/ David Stamp