WASHINGTON — Federal Aviation Administration chief Donald D. Engen said today that 1985 was one of aviation's safest years in terms of its accident rate, despite a record number of deaths as a result of plane crashes.
More than 2,000 people were killed in civil airliner disasters worldwide in 1985, making it the deadliest year for civil aviation in history.
Other records were set in 1985 with the worst single plane disaster in aviation history when a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 slammed into a mountainside in central Japan, killing 520 people on Aug. 12.
On Dec. 12, 256 people, including 248 U.S. soldiers coming home for the holidays, were killed in the worst single chartered plane and military charter disaster in aviation history when a DC-8 crashed in Gander, Newfoundland.
Plane Crash at Sea
On June 23, all 329 people aboard an Air India Boeing 747 died when the Toronto-Bombay flight plunged into the sea off southwest Ireland. It was the worst air disaster at sea.
"I have great confidence that 1986 will be better," Engen said on the NBC "Today" program. "1985 truly was one of the safest years with respect to one of the major safety indicators that we've had in the last 10 years and that is the accident rate."
Engen said more people are flying in airplanes and "I think that was more a matter of happenstance than anything else."
The FAA chief said there is not a common thread in the causes of aviation tragedies.
Many Problems Dealt With
"We've looked at everything we can and we're dealing with maintenance and we're dealing with the operational factors. We're trying to deal with terrorism and we're developing new means to detect explosives. We're working across a broad front to make things safer."
Engen said the government has come down "resolutely on air carriers with respect to their procedures," adding that fines for regulation violations in 1985 were four times what they were for 1984.
"We have severely curtailed or grounded 57 airlines in the last 20 months," Engen said. "We're also bringing up and working on our air traffic control system."
Engen denied that deregulation has contributed to the aviation disasters, saying the accident rate has declined "some 37%" since deregulation became effective in 1978.