U.S. airlines did not have a single fatality in 2010. It was the third time in the past four years there were no deaths, enduring a dramatic tendency toward safer skies.
Years without deaths have occurred sporadically since the dawn of the jet age, but never have so many occurred in so short a period, according to an analysis of data from the National Transportation Safety Board. The average number of deaths fell from about 86 a year in the 1990s to 46 a year since 2000, a 46% drop.
The last fatal accident occurred Feb. 12, 2009, when a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 turboprop plunged into a neighborhood near Buffalo, killing 49 people on board and a man on the ground. That broke a 2 ½-year stretch of no deaths dating to Aug. 27, 2006, when a Comair regional jet tried to takeoff on a closed runway in Lexington, killing 49.
Safety analysts, like the Federal Aviation Administration, credit the improving safety record to scores of initiatives that have gone into place in recent decades. Among the most critical enhancements: technology that has nearly wiped out collisions with the ground and other aircraft, improved training and data collection that identifies hazards before they cause accidents.