Charter flight deaths surged in 2008

WASHINGTON — Accidents on charter flights killed 66 people in the United States last year, the highest total since 2000, transportation safety officials said Thursday.

The air charter category includes medical helicopters, tour flights and air taxis.

That toll compared with 43 air-charter deaths in 2007, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s annual review of aviation accident statistics. The agency recently put the spotlight on the safety of medevac helicopter services. Those helicopters were involved in four accidents last year, resulting in 15 deaths.

The safety board’s figures showed that general aviation remained the deadliest form of air travel, accounting for 495 of the 564 fatalities in U.S. civil aviation last year. There were 1,559 accidents last year in general aviation, which includes a variety of personal and business flights not run by the commercial airlines.

Large commercial carriers were involved in 28 accidents last year, the same as in 2007. There were no deaths. The airlines carried 753 million passengers on more than 10.8 million flights.

Commuter airlines, which often fly smaller turboprop aircraft, made 581,000 flights. These operators had seven accidents in 2008, none of them fatal.

Commercial aviation in the United States had been having an uncommonly quiet period, as measured by aviation deaths, for the past two years, but that ended with two high-profile accidents this year. In February, a commuter turboprop crashed into a home outside Buffalo, killing 50 people. Last month, a small plane crashed in Butte, Mont., resulting in 14 deaths, including several children.

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