Aircraft accidents killed 556 people last year compared with just 44 in 2017, new figures show.

But 2018 was still the ninth safest year on record, according to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN).

Last year’s worst civilian airline accident was in October when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed in Indonesia, killing 189.

A total of 15 fatal airline accidents occurred in 2018, the Netherlands-based ASN said.

They included crashes in Cuba, Iran, Nepal and Russia.

This made 2018 the third safest year ever by the number of fatal accidents and the ninth safest in terms of fatalities.

The situation has been improving generally over the past 20 years and 2017 was the safest in history with ten accidents and 44 lives lost.

Given the estimated worldwide air traffic of about 37,800,000 flights, the accident rate is one fatal accident per 2,540,000 flights, according to the ASN.

The independent organisation’s CEO Harro Ranter said: “If the accident rate had remained the same as ten years ago there would have been 39 fatal accidents last year.

“At the accident rate of the year 2000, there would have been even 64 fatal accidents. This shows the enormous progress in terms of safety in the past two decades.”

But ASN said what it terms loss-of-control accidents were a major safety concern for the aviation industry as these accounted for at least ten of the worst 25 accidents in the past five years.

Loss-of-control refers to an unrecoverable deviation from an intended flight path. This can be caused by mechanical failure, human actions or environmental disturbances. Most of those accidents were not survivable, according to the ASN.