*** FILE *** An American Airlines MD-80 aircraft taxis by a runway as another takes off from DFW International Airport, Thursday, May 19, 2005, in Grapevine, Texas. American Airlines on Saturday April 12, 2008 received clearance from federal aviation officials to return all of its 300 grounded jets to service, an airline spokesman said. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, FILE)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- No one died during 2007 in accidents among larger scheduled U.S. airlines and smaller commuter aircraft, and deaths in private plane accidents dropped to 491, their lowest total in more than 40 years, the government reported Wednesday.
But on-demand aircraft - charters, air taxis and tours, and medical flights with a patient aboard - saw accident deaths jump from 16 in 2006 to 43 in 2007, according to preliminary annual figures from the National Transportation Safety Board.
As hundreds of thousands of air travelers learned last week the number of fatal accidents is not the only measure of air safety. Last week, American Airlines alone canceled nearly 3,100 flights affecting 250,000 passengers as the Federal Aviation Administration forced it to inspect wiring in its Boeing MD-80 jets. Alaska Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Delta also canceled flights for similar inspections.
The FAA was finally insisting on compliance with a Sept. 5, 2006 order that it had given airlines 18 months to obey. The tougher FAA stance followed the revelation last month that the agency's lax enforcement of its own safety rules had allowed Southwest Airlines to fly dozens of its Boeing 737s without inspecting them as required for cracks in the fuselage.
The FAA fined Southwest a record $10.2 million and ordered an audit of maintenance records at all domestic carriers to see if its rules had been obeyed. United had to pull some of its Boeing 777s from service to test their cargo-fire suppression systems.
No one knew where the audit might turn up other planes that would have to be pulled from service.
"The U.S. aviation industry has produced an admirable safety record in recent years," said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "However, we must not become complacent. We must continue to take the lessons learned from our investigations and use them to create even safer skies for all aircraft operators and their passengers."
The government figures showed that scheduled U.S. airlines flew 18.7 million hours in 2007 with 24 accidents, but no deaths. There was one fatality among nonscheduled U.S. carriers: A mechanic was fatally injured while working on a Sky King Inc. Boeing 737 in Tunica, Miss., on July 10, 2007.
Commuter airlines had 3 accidents in 302,000 hours of flight, but no fatalities.
On-demand carriers 43 deaths in 62 accidents over 3.7 million flight hours.
General aviation saw its accident fatalities plummet from 703 in 2006 to 491 in 2007. But during 23.8 million hours of private flights in 2007 the number of accidents rose to 1,631, from 1,518 in 2006.
Foreign registered aircraft accounted for 11 accidents in the U.S. in 2007 with three deaths in a single accident. Unregistered aircraft had 14 accidents which claimed 7 lives.
On the Net:
NTSB 2007 statistics: http://www.ntsb.gov/aviation/Stats.htm