The number of people killed in commercial passenger plane accidents increased in 2020 despite a huge drop in flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an aviation consultancy has found.
According to the Dutch-based To70, there were 40 accidents involving commercial passenger flights in 2020, five of which were fatal, resulting in the deaths of 299 people. The year before, 257 people lost their lives in eight fatal accidents out of total of 86 accidents.
The increase in fatalities comes despite a sharp decline in commercial flights worldwide, estimated at 42 per cent year-on-year by FlightRadar24.
Overall, the fatal accident rate for large commercial aeroplane is 0.27 per million flights or one fatal accident for every 3.7 million flights — a level similar to the average of the last 10 years.
Nearly 60 per cent of the fatalities are attributed to one single event: the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane over Iran in January 2020 which killed all 176 passengers and crew on board.
Iranian authorities initially denied they were involved in the crash but later admitted they had confused the plane with a cruise missile. The crash came days after a US drone strike killed a prominent Iranian military officer, Gen. Qassen Soleimani, in Baghdad.
Three of the other fatal accidents were "runway excursions", or when a plane leaves the paved surface of the runway. One such crash in Pakistan killed 98 people in May, and another in India in August saw 21 people lose their lives.
The consultancy warned that the "significant decrease in traffic" has had an equally "significant" impact on human performance.
"Skill fade is recognised as a critical issue for our industry as we return to normal operations."
It called for "significant efforts" to take place this year as traffic level start to increase to ensure that there is impact on safety.
"The training of all operational staff and the need to ensure that we provide appropriate skill refreshers continually through the return to normal operations, noting a possible yo-yo effect in traffic levels, is a priority," it said in a statement.
The safest year on record was 2017 when two fatal accidents, both to regional turboprops, resulted in the loss of 13 lives.