Two crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX jets within five months of each other gained broad coverage in the media in 2019, yet the number of fatalities in commercial flights last year fell by more than half from 2018. The 257 fatalities in large commercial airline accidents in 2019 marked “one of the safest years ever for commercial aviation,” according to the aviation accident tracking website Aviation Safety Network.

The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX in March 2019 accounted for 157 of the 257 total fatalities in 2019.  According to the Dutch aviation consultancy To70, there were 86 accidents involving large commercial airplanes last year, including eight fatal incidents. The earlier 737 MAX crash occurred near Jakarta in October 2018 and killed 189 people.

The safest year on record for global aviation is 2017, when there were no fatal passenger jet crashes and only two fatal crashes involving regional turboprops that killed 13. The Aviation Safety Network did not include small commuter planes and smaller turboprop airplanes.

Safer than ever to fly commercially

The 737 MAX jet crashes were tragic, but travelers should not infer that it signals higher risk for flying commercially. The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019, but studies show commercial air travel is safer than ever.

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows the rate of fatalities per passenger boardings is one for every 7.9 million. That compares to one death per every 2.7 million boardings during the time frame 1998-2007. MIT scholar Arnold Barnett says the pace of improvements in safety has improved every decade and has not slackened even though additional gains are harder to come by.

Private airplane accidents are most common

Unfortunately, flying in smaller, non-commercial aircraft has become less safe statistically speaking. Civil aviation fatalities rose from 347 in 2017 to 393 in 2018. Some may be surprised to learn the majority of aviation fatalities involve small, private planes. The FAA states there are about three small plane crashes per day in the U.S.

Aviation accidents, both commercial and private, are caused by numerous factors. Many accidents have more than one cause. Deaths and injuries that occur from these accidents are tragic. It is important to enlist the representation of a knowledgeable aircraft accident attorney who understands how to investigate accidents and pursue legal claims.