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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How common are plane crashes?” was written by Aisha Gani, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th July 2014 16.20 UTC

There have been three aviation disasters in the last week: the shooting down last Thursday of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew, the crashing of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 while trying to land at a Taiwanese airport on Wednesday, killing 48 and injuring 10, and the crashing today of Air Algérie flight AH5017‬ from Burkino Faso to Algiers, which was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members.

It seems as though such crashes are happening very frequently at present – but, statistically, how common are plane crashes?

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year, and the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year. (Iata says that for western-built jet aircraft, there were 0.41 "hull loss" accidents per million flights in 2013, equivalent to one such accident per 2.4m flights; a "hull loss" is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and not subsequently repaired).

Only 20% of the 81 accidents recorded by Iata last year caused fatalities; there were 210 fatalities from commercial aviation accidents in 2013, a reduction from the 414 people who lost their lives in 2012 – despite there being a record low of 75 accidents that year.

There were 490 deaths in 2011 and a total of 92 accidents. There was a much higher figure of 786 fatalities in 2010, and 94 accidents. In 2009, there were 685 fatalities and 90 accidents.

This year's high-profile disasters have put the number of fatalities for 2014 at above 700 already – indicating that this is a particularly bad year for air crashes.

Nevertheless, flying has become safer over the last two decades. Between 2001 and 2010 the accident rate was cut by 42%, and two decades ago there were around 2,000 deaths and 250 crashes per year.

The single worst aviation disaster in history before 9/11 was the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, in which 583 people were killed in a runway collision between two Boeing 747s at Los Rodeos Airport.

• This article was amended on 25 July 2014. An earlier version suggested that the 81 accidents recorded by Iata in 2013 were the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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