Aviation underwriters should make hay last year as claims fell to their lowest level in 12 years in 2002.

And insurers' premiums nearly doubled to their highest level since 1991, figures from the International Underwriting Association (IUA) show.

The two factors brought the ratio of claims to premiums to an exceptional 31% , a huge reduction on prior years. But the number of passengers killed was higher than in 2001.

During 2002 there were 35 fatal accidents resulting in the deaths of 985 passengers and crew, a 17% increase on 2001 when 842 passengers and crew died in 30 fatal accidents.

Incoming chairman of the Aviation Insurance Offices Association (Aioa) Nick Brown, senior vice president of AIG Aviation, said: "In terms of passengers killed it certainly wasn't at a low level. "The financial consequences of those losses will be very much less than those of the previous years.

"You could say 2002 was a good year for aviation insurers, albeit immediately in the wake of what was almost certainly the worst year ever in aviation insurance. "