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An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX airplane takes off on a test flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 2, 2020.

AFP Contributor#AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The number of people killed in large commercial airplane crashes rose in 2020 to 299 worldwide, even as the number of crashes fell by more than 50 per cent, a Dutch consulting firm said on Friday.

Aviation consulting firm To70 said in 2020 there were 40 accidents involving large commercial passenger planes, five of which were fatal, resulting in 299 fatalities. In 2019 there were 86 accidents, eight of which were fatal, resulting in 257 fatalities.

Large commercial airplanes had 0.27 fatal accidents per million flights in 2020, To70 said, or one fatal crash every 3.7 million flights – up from 0.18 fatal accidents per million flights in 2019.

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The decline in crashes came amid a sharp decline in flights due to the coronavirus pandemic. Flightradar24 reported commercial flights it tracked worldwide in 2020 fell 42 per cent to 24.4 million.

More than half of all deaths in the To70 review were the 176 people killed in January 2020 when a Ukrainian plane was shot down in Iranian airspace. The second deadliest incident was the May crash of a Pakistan airliner crashed in May killing 98.

Large passenger airplanes covered by the statistics are used by nearly all travellers on airlines but exclude small commuter airplanes in service.

Over the last two decades, aviation deaths have been falling dramatically. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network (ASN) said.

Over the last five years, there have been an average of 14 fatal accidents for commercial passenger and cargo planes resulting in 345 deaths annually, ASN 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.

The United States has not had a fatal U.S. passenger airline crash since February 2009 and one fatality due to a U.S. passenger airline accident in that period.

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