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Airplane Accidents

airplane

When compared to other means of transportation, commercial air travel is very, very safe.  In fact, the vast majority of aviation accidents and deaths occur in smaller craft, general aviation.  However, as evidenced by the Boeing 737 Max crashes in recent years, when things do go wrong on an airline aircraft, the results are catastrophic.

We examined data from the National Transportation Safety Board to highlight how often aviation accidents occur and what type of aircraft are typically involved.

Commercial Airlines

As previously mentioned, the Boeing 737 Max crashes and resulting criminal and civil cases against Boeing highlight just how important commercial aircraft safety is.   While not represented in the NTSB data, two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed within a span of six months in October 2018 and March 2019, killing all 346 passengers and crew on board.  Yet, because of safety regulations, crashes like these have become exceedingly rare – especially in the United States.  You’d have to go all the back to 2006 to find the last time that the NTSB investigated more than one fatal airline crash in a single year and there were eight years in a row without a single fatal crash from 2010 through 2017.

Chart 1

Year Total Accidents Fatal accidents On board fatalities Flight hours Flight miles
1997 43 3 2 15,061,662 6,339,432,000
1998 41 1 0 15,921,447 6,343,690,000
1999 40 2 11 16,693,365 6,689,327,000
2000 49 2 89 17,478,519 7,152,260,000
2001 41 6 525 17,157,858 6,994,939,000
2002 34 0 0 16,718,781 6,927,954,000
2003 51 2 21 16,887,756 7,015,935,000
2004 23 1 13 18,184,016 7,604,248,000
2005 34 3 20 18,712,191 7,843,717,000
2006 26 2 49 18,647,896 7,851,864,000
2007 26 0 0 19,014,677 8,024,313,000
2008 19 0 0 18,580,166 7,813,371,000
2009 26 1 49 17,182,970 7,248,702,000
2010 28 0 0 17,235,121 7,352,374,000
2011 29 0 0 17,464,623 7,473,520,000
2012 23 0 0 17,271,783 7,443,532,000
2013 19 0 0 17,387,656 7,484,920,149
2014 29 0 0 17,354,308 7,507,487,935
2015 28 0 0 17,519,142 7,628,941,477
2016 26 0 0 17,866,607 7,813,090,948
2017 29 0 0 18,098,154 7,923,668,749
2018 27 1 1 18,731,201 8,207,258,040

Commuter Airlines

In 1997, the FAA began requiring that scheduled commuter airlines – those with between 10 and 30 seats – operate under stricter regulations.  Prior to that, commuter airlines had crash rates that were far higher than those of major air carriers.  The results? After spiking the year following the new regulations, the crash rate among commuter airlines dropped – and has continued to drop – considerably.  Additionally, many commuter airliners phased out the smallest aircraft and replaced them with larger aircraft given that they were subject to the same regulations.  As you can see, this lower crash rate trend has continued through 2018.

chart 2

Year Total Accidents Fatal accidents On board fatalities Flight hours Flight miles
1997 16 5 46 982,764 246,029,000
1998 8 0 0 353,670 50,773,000
1999 11 0 0 861,843 411,987,000
2000 7 1 3 820,738 371,767,000
2001 5 0 0 656,333 299,252,000
2002 7 0 0 571,417 264,547,000
2003 3 0 0 579,944 264,448,000
2004 7 1 1 698,487 325,911,000
2005 6 0 0 677,838 321,926,000
2006 7 0 0 615,313 287,493,000
2007 2 1 1 622,645 291,592,000
2008 8 2 1 546,600 254,917,000
2009 4 1 2 443,862 216,896,000
2010 3 1 2 515,865 245,754,000
2011 4 0 0 498,342 240,037,000
2012 3 0 0 450,453 216,540,000
2013 4 2 9 391,985 187,591,009
2014 2 0 0 388,518 183,461,589
2015 1 0 0 406,638 193,261,628
2016 4 0 0 427,450 203,870,258
2017 3 0 0 483,234 231,303,007
2018 3 0 0 557,095 266,467,646

Air Taxis

Air taxis are defined as small aircraft that make short trips on demand.  In the United States, air taxis are subject to Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) which are much less stringent than those of Part 121 – those that larger commercial aircraft must adhere to.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are significantly more fatal crashes involving air taxis than commercial airlines in the United States.

chart 3

Year Total Accidents Fatal accidents On board fatalities Flight hours
1997 82 15 39 3,098,000
1998 77 17 41 3,802,000
1999 74 12 38 3,204,000
2000 80 22 68 3,930,000
2001 72 18 59 2,997,000
2002 60 18 35 2,911,000
2003 73 18 40 2,927,000
2004 66 23 63 3,238,000
2005 65 11 16 3,814,671
2006 52 10 16 3,742,230
2007 61 14 43 4,033,313
2008 58 20 69 3,204,726
2009 47 2 14 2,900,660
2010 30 6 17 3,113,218
2011 50 16 41
2012 40 8 12 3,521,974
2013 45 10 25 3,384,502
2014 35 8 20 3,653,797
2015 38 7 27 3,566,000
2016 30 7 19 3,499,517
2017 44 8 16 3,509,451
2018 41 6 12 3,842,566

General Aviation

General aviation includes a wide range of aviation activities including pilot training, movement of heavy loads, site seeing, and most personal and corporate aviation.  Essentially, it encompasses all aviation outside of the military and commercial airlines.  Given the broad scope and less stringent safety standards, general aviation accidents make up the vast majority of aviation crashes and fatalities.

chart 4

Year Total Accidents Fatal accidents On board fatalities Flight hours
1997 1,840 350 625 25,600,000
1998 1,902 364 618 25,517,000
1999 1,905 340 615 29,246,000
2000 1,837 345 585 27,838,000
2001 1,728 326 559 25,430,000
2002 1,716 345 575 25,545,000
2003 1,741 352 630 25,997,000
2004 1,619 314 559 24,888,000
2005 1,671 321 558 23,167,712
2006 1,523 308 547 23,962,936
2007 1,654 288 491 23,818,668
2008 1,568 277 487 22,804,648
2009 1,480 276 472 20,861,866
2010 1,441 271 455 21,688,409
2011 1,471 270 447
2012 1,471 273 438 20,880,993
2013 1,223 221 386 19,492,356
2014 1,222 255 412 19,617,389
2015 1,211 230 375 20,576,072
2016 1,269 213 379 21,333,747
2017 1,233 203 331 21,702,719