By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - Global airlines are heading for the safest year on record with an average by the end of November of only one accident of any type for every 5.3 million flights, the international airline body IATA reported on Thursday.
The Geneva-based IATA also said that so far in 2012 for the first time since the infancy of the industry in the second and third decades of the last century there had been not one loss of a Western-built jet aircraft among its 240 members.
"As of November 30, if you were to take a flight every day, the odds are that you would fly 14,000 years without an accident," its chief safety officer Gunther Matschnigg told reporters at a briefing.
Overall fatalities across the industry, including airlines that do not belong to IATA or have not yet been admitted because they do not conform to its safety standards, came to 401, compared with 490 in the January-November period in 2011, Matschnigg said.
Total world accident rates involving Western- and Eastern-built jets and turboprop aircraft were down to 2.14 per million flights from 2.58 at this time last year.
Among IATA members, who include all major and many smaller airlines operating international routes but not budget, or low-cost, carriers, the rate tumbled to 1.03 from 1.89.
For IATA, accidents include everything from crashes involving fatalities, in-flight damage and undercarriage failures on landing to runway or apron collisions with other planes or airport vehicles.
IATA director general Tony Tyler, former head of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, said the figures were "another proof that aviation is the safest way to travel."
FEWER ACCIDENTS FATAL
Matschnigg said only 7 percent of all accidents this year around the globe involved the loss of Western-built jets, 6 percent less than last year, and just 15 percent of all accidents were fatal against 26 percent this time last year.
Europe had only a handful of non-fatal accidents involving Western-built aircraft against none at all in 2011 and North America reduced its rate to zero against just a few last year.
The rate of accidents affecting these aircraft per million flights declined even in safety-challenged Africa from 4.04 to 3.90, according to IATA.
But in terms of overall accidents involving all types of aircraft operated by IATA and non-IATA airlines, the continent had the world's worst record so far this year with 12.69 per million flights against 8.08 last year, Matschnigg said.
Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, long seen as accident-prone because of doubtful aircraft and shaky maintenance, also saw a marked improvement this year, recording only 4.29 accidents per million flights against 10.65 last year.
Latin America and the Caribbean also improved, reducing their accident rate for all aircraft from 5.33 per million flights in the first 11 months of 2011 to only 1.37 so far this year. (Editing by Hugh Lawson)