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There were zero U.S. airline fatalities last year, marking the close of one of the safest decades ever. 2010 was the third year in the past four to be free of airline deaths, and the fourth such year since 2002. According to USA Today's Alan Levin, "Years without deaths have occurred sporadically since the dawn of the jet age, but never have so many occurred in so short a period." He added, "The average number of deaths fell from about 86 a year in the 1990s to 46 a year since 2000, a 46% drop."
Last year was also the first in which there were no fatalities on airlines based in "developed" nations.
The last fatal accident was the crash of Colgan Flight 3407 outside Buffalo in February, 2009. Fifty people were killed in the accident, which sparked government investigations of regional carriers and pilot fatigue. There have been several close calls during the past decade as well, notably the famous ditching of US Airways Flight 1547 in the Hudson River in early 2009, and more recently, American Airlines Flight 331, which overran the runway in Kingston, Jamaica, and nearly went into the ocean.
Still, analysts and Federal Aviation Association (FAA) officials point to initiatives taken over the past ten years as evidence that there's more than luck at play. "Among the most critical enhancements," Levin writes, are "technology that has nearly wiped out collisions with the ground and other aircraft, improved training, and data collection that identifies hazards before they cause accidents."
FAA Administrator Randy Babbit tells USA Today, "We have identified and eliminated many of the major risks in the system and we will continue to act on the remaining safety challenges and keep air travelers safe."
Whatever the reason, the proof is in the numbers, which illustrate an increasingly safe aviation industry. Let's hope the next ten years continue the trend.