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Aviation industry suffers worst week in memory

WASHINGTON--Nearly 300 passengers perished when their plane is shot out of the sky. Airlines suspended flights to Israel's largest airport after rocket attacks. Two airliners crash during storms. Aviation has suffered one of its worst weeks in memory, a cluster of disasters spanning three continents.

Industry analysts and safety experts say they can find no common themes. Nor do they think the events indicate that flying is suddenly becoming less safe.

Less than one in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident in which the plane was damaged beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association. That includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines as well as scheduled passenger flights.

“One of the things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type event or same root cause then you would say there's a systemic problem here, but each event is unique in its own way,” said Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an airline industry-supported nonprofit in the U.S. that promotes global aviation safety.

But Beatty said he also finds the disaster cluster “a cold reminder” that airline accidents are likely to increase because the industry is growing, especially in developing countries. The more flights there are, the more potential for accidents, he said.

The misfortunes began July 18 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board. It's still not clear who fired the missile that destroyed the plane, but Ukrainian officials have blamed pro-Russian rebels.

The mysterious disappearance in March of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people on board, combined with the destruction of Flight 17, added up to more than twice the total global airline fatalities in all of last year, which was the industry's safest year on record. Ascend, a global aviation industry consulting firm based in London, counted 163 fatalities in 2013 involving airliners with 14 seats or more.

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