Last year was one of the aviation industry’s safest ever, despite continuing financial troubles.

Airline fatalities worldwide dropped 25 percent in 2008, according to the latest data from Ascend, which provides information to the global aerospace industry.

There were 539 reported passenger and crew fatalities in 2008, compared to 730 in 2007, Ascend said.

The only year in this decade with fewer fatalities was 2004, with 434.

However, 2008 also saw a total of 28 fatal air accidents, an increase of 17 percent from 2007’s 24.

The fatal accident rate for 2008 of 1 per 1.3 million flights is better than the overall rate of 1 per 1.2 million for the nine years since 2000.

The year also compares favorably with the 1990s, which saw an average of 37.4 fatal accidents per year. An average of 1,128 people died each year during the ’90s — more than twice the 2008 total.

“These are very reassuring statistics,” Ascend Director Paul Hayes said Wednesday. “Although there were more fatal accidents this year than last, far fewer people died. The chances of dying in a serious air accident have reduced significantly and overall, passenger safety has improved.”

The worst accident of 2008 was the Spanair MD-80 crash in August, which killed 149 of the 166 passengers on board and five of six crew when it crashed beside the runway at Madrid Bajaras Airport. Only two other accidents killed more than 50 people; the Aeroflot Nord (Boeing 737) and Itek Air (Boeing 737) crashes resulted in 82 and 65 deaths respectively.