IN a year that will be long-remembered for multiple high-profile plane tragedies, the 2014 global jet accident rate ended up - paradoxically - being the lowest in commercial aviation history, with one accident for every 4.4 million flights.
However, the 12 fatal accidents over the year claimed 640 lives, more than tripling the 210 deaths in 2013, according to the annual safety report of the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
The report comes as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370, among the 12 accidents last year, hits the one-year mark, with search operations in the southern Indian Ocean having yielded no sign of the aircraft thus far. MH370 was carrying 239 people.
In 2014, the global jet accident rate, measured in hull loss per million flights, worked out to 0.23, underscoring the continued improvement in flight safety, said Iata.
In 2013, the figure was 0.41, or one accident for every 2.4 million flights; the five-year average for 2009 to 2013 was higher, at 0.58.
Hull loss refers to an accident in which the plane is destroyed or significantly damaged and is not repaired after.
Flight MH17, which was hit by rebel separatists last July as it flew over Ukraine with 298 people on board, is not classified an accident under international safety reporting standards. (The four hijacked planes involved in the 9/11 terror plot in the US in 2001 were not categorised as accidents either.) But even with MH17 included in the tally, the number of fatal accidents in 2014 would still have been lower than the 16 in 2013.
Noting that any accident was "one too many", Iata director-general Tony Tyler said: "Governments and industry have come together to find ways to reduce the risk of over-flying conflict zones. This includes better sharing of critical information about security risks to civil aviation. And we are calling on governments to find an international mechanism to regulate the design, manufacture and deployment of weapons with anti-aircraft capabilities."
Meanwhile, in the wake of MH370, UN aviation body International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) is spearheading efforts to enhance aircraft tracking by next year by having aircraft report their position at 15-minute intervals.
A 584-page report released on Sunday by an international investigation team that looked into the MH370 crew and the Boeing 777 aircraft found that the battery in the underwater locator beacon (ULB) of the black box had expired in December 2012. But MAS clarified quickly the next day that the expired battery would have made little difference in the search.
"A similar ULB unit is installed with the solid-state cockpit voice recorder (SSCVR) and the battery life was still valid on the day of the event," said MAS in a statement, adding that the SSCVR battery would have transmitted signals for 30 days from underwater.
Iata's safety report also showed that for jet-hull losses, most regions pulled off improvements in their safety records in 2014, compared to both 2013 and the five-year average for 2009 to 2013. However, Africa and North Asia logged higher turboprop hull loss rates in 2014 than in 2013; the 2014 hull-loss rate for these two regions was also higher than their respective five-year averages between 2009 and 2013.