(CNN) -- Last year was the safest in aviation history for passengers flying on Western-built jets, an international aviation trade group said Wednesday.
The 2010 global accident rate was 0.61 per million flights, a rate equating to one accident for every 1.6 million flights, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That is just below the previous historic low rate of 0.65 rate in 2006, and a "significant improvement" over the rate of 0.71 recorded in 2009.
There were 17 plane accidents -- or hull losses, in the lingo of the business -- involving Western-built jet aircraft in 2010, compared to 19 the previous year. A hull loss is an accident in which a plane is destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
There were 786 fatalities in passenger aircraft compared to 685 in 2009, IATA said.
As in the past, there were significant regional differences in the accident rates, with North America having relatively low rates and Africa having the worst rate. While Africa's hull loss rate was 7.41 -- four Western-built planes crashed in Africa -- it was lower than the 2009 rate of 9.94.
IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said African systems must improve.
"Flying must be equally safe in all parts of the world," Bisignani said. "An accident rate in Africa that is over 12 times the global average is not acceptable." He said African carriers should make use of an IATA audit system to improve safety.
Runway excursions -- instances when a plane leaves the runway during take-offs or landings -- accounted for 21 percent of the worldwide accidents, IATA said, saying the number has dropped because of attention to the problem. Some of the accidents occur when planes land on wet runways; others when the aircraft approaches too fast, too high or touches down beyond the desired spot on the runway. IATA said it is working with the industry and regulators to address the issue.
IATA said 2010 had the following results:
2.4 billion people flew safely on 36.8 million flights.
94 accidents for all types of aircraft -- Eastern and Western built -- compared to 90 in 2009.
23 fatal accidents for all passenger aircraft types, compared to 18 in 2009.
IATA represents some 230 airlines comprising 93 percent of scheduled international air traffic.