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    Aviation Accidents and Incidents

    An Analysis of Over 40 Years of Airplane Crash Data

    Aircraft Content Image

    How safe are airlines and general aircraft? We looked at every aviation accident and incident reported to the NTSB over nearly 40 years to find out.

    In the wake of the deadly crashes involving Boeing’s 737 Max 8, airline and general aviation safety are back in the world’s collective consciousness. While air travel is often touted as one of the safest forms of transportation, these incidents have underscored the fact that when accidents occur, the results are often catastrophic. In just two crashes, 346 passengers and crew were killed – 157 in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash and another 189 in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash.

    While the 737 Max 8’s were grounded, hundreds of other planes and aircraft crash each year. In 2018 alone, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated 1,581 aviation accidents and incidents that left 847 people dead and another 768 people injured.

    This information left us to wonder, how often do planes crash? How many people have been killed in aviation and airline accidents? Which planes and which manufacturers are involved in the most crashes?

    The Chicago personal injury attorneys at Clifford Law Offices analyzed 37 years of aviation crash and incident data from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to find answers to these and other questions.

    While most of the analysis in the article covers the years of 1982 through 2018, we have included data from the years 2019-2023 in certain areas.   During those five years, a total of 7,318 aviation accidents were investigated by the NTSB – 1,601 of which were fatal.

    icon 01

    82,727

    crashes & incidents

    icon 02

    42,226

    Fatal Injuries

    icon 03

    17,740

    Serious Injuries

    icon 04

    28,477

    Minor Injuries

    How safe are airplanes?

    It depends on the type of aircraft that you are flying in. When looking at overall fatal crash rate, the numbers show that flight one of the safest forms of travel. The National Safety Council puts the odds of dying as a passenger of an airplane as 1 in 188,106 – the second safest form of travel behind railway travel ( 1 in 243,765). Still, each crash is much more likely to be fatal than crashes in other forms of transportation. From 1982 – 2018, 20 percent of all aviation crashes and incidents involved at least one fatality. For comparison’s sake, less than one percent of U.S. car accidents are fatal.

    However, crashes are most likely to occur in single engine planes – and typically in general aviation rather than on commercial airlines. In fact, 79 percent of all aircraft accidents and 72 percent of fatal crashes involved single engine planes.

    Aircraft Crashes Over Time

    While total aircraft accidents have steadily decreased since 1982, fatalities have not seen the same year in year out decline.

    After a 37-year high of 2,533 fatal aircraft crash injuries in 1996, the total deaths have bounced up and down seemingly at random. While it stands to reason that fewer crashes means fewer injuries and deaths, the nature of aviation accidents means that only a few major crashes can completely change the data from year to year.

    Meanwhile, total aviation crashes have dropped from a high of 3,583 in 1982 down to 1,581 in 2018 – a decrease of nearly 56 percent. However, as the total crashes have gone down, the percentage of those crashes that have been fatal has gone up, from 18.2 percent in 1982 to 22.5 percent in 2018.

    *We have updated the table below to include total crashes and fatal crashes from the years 2019-2023.  During those years, the data does not include total fatalities or injury severity.

    Chart Aviation Crashes Injuries By Year
    event year aviation crashes fatal injuries serious injuries minor injuries
    1982 3593 1585 727 998
    1983 3556 1273 673 1048
    1984 3457 1229 697 1047
    1985 3096 1648 612 1108
    1986 2880 1180 619 970
    1987 2828 1237 554 936
    1988 2730 1195 620 1117
    1989 2544 1532 518 1029
    1990 2518 999 589 908
    1991 2462 1087 535 913
    1992 2355 1273 609 775
    1993 2313 865 505 910
    1994 2257 1183 529 763
    1995 2309 1236 480 731
    1996 2187 2533 532 729
    1997 2148 1296 497 1026
    1998 2226 1325 388 807
    1999 2209 1221 491 1206
    2000 2220 1765 501 1256
    2001 2063 1709 478 612
    2002 2020 1386 432 706
    2003 2085 1374 480 772
    2004 1952 978 457 603
    2005 2031 1689 426 620
    2006 1851 1489 420 473
    2007 2016 1335 402 543
    2008 1931 1293 511 786
    2009 1805 1207 381 625
    2010 1821 1390 343 589
    2011 1889 959 432 488
    2012 1861 1007 336 464
    2013 1561 839 358 671
    2014 1547 1438 321 469
    2015 1600 1112 364 473
    2016 1628 835 297 468
    2017 1597 677 295 401
    2018 1581 847 331 437
    2019 1504 *379 N/A N/A
    2020 1307 *294 N/A N/A
    2021 1518 *320 N/A N/A
    2022 1538 *328 N/A N/A
    2023 1451 *280 N/A N/A

    Why have crashes
    gone down?

    It is hard to understate the roles that increase safety regulation and requirements on both operators and on pilots have played in the overall reduction in crashes and fatalities – especially those in the commercial airline industry. In fact, before a passenger was killed aboard a Southwest flight in 2018, the last fatal airline crash in the United States was in February 2009. That disaster, the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, killed all 49 people on board and another person on the ground in Clarence, NY. The resulting lawsuits and advocacy from the families of those who were killed made sweeping changes to the airline industry. Most notably, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 required significantly more training for pilots – 1,500 hours up from 250 before, flight and duty time regulations, and many other industry safety and transparency requirements. Many other laws, including the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) as well as international conventions, regulate everything from product and aircraft manufacturing and maintenance to pilot schools and business operations for commercial as well as general aviation.

    When Do Aviation Crashes Occur? A Look at Accidents by Phase of Flight.

    Legend

    Not all phases of flight are equal here. In fact, the person sitting white knuckled next to you with their eyes shut tight may be on to something. The NTSB data shows that takeoff and landing are, by far, the most likely parts of air travel for accidents to occur.

    “Interestingly, despite being the most likely phase to be involved in a crash, accidents during landing were by far the least likely to be deadly”

    Here is the full list of crashes by phase of flight, from most to least crashes:

    • Landing: 20,330 crashes
    • Takeoff: 16,061 crashes
    • Cruise: 11,034 crashes
    • Maneuvering: 10,275 crashes
    • Approach: 8,077 crashes
    • Taxi: 2,438 crashes
    • Climb: 2,351 crashes
    • Descent: 2,351crashes
    • Go-Around: 1,685 crashes
    • Standing: 1,284 crashes

    However, crashes that occur during the maneuvering and cruise phases are most likely to be deadly – 39 percent of crashes during the maneuvering phase and 30 percent of crashes during the cruise were fatal. Interestingly, despite being the most likely phase to be involved in a crash, accidents during landing were by far the least likely to be deadly. Just under two percent of landing phase crashes resulted in a fatality – compared to 15.7 percent of crashes durning takeoff.

    Where Aviation Accidents Occur

    Between 1982 and 2018, 7,8161 aviation crashes occurred in the United States.

    These crashes where scattered across the country. However, the most crashes occurred in Anchorage, Alaska – by nearly double over the next closest area, Miami, Florida with 269 crashes.

    The rest of the top 25 regions for U.S. aviation crashes are:

    1. Anchorage, AK: 528 crashes, 47 fatalities
    2. Miami, FL: 269 crashes, 187 fatalities
    3. Albuquerque, NM: 261 crashes, 47 fatalities
    4. Houston, TX: 254 crashes, 57 fatalities
    5. Chicago, IL: 252 crashes, 31 fatalities
    6. Fairbanks, AK: 231 crashes, 28 fatalities
    7. Phoenix, AZ: 207 crashes, 42 fatalities
    8. Tucson, AZ: 186 crashes, 42 fatalities
    9. Atlanta, GA: 181 crashes, 39 fatalities
    10. Denver, CO: 176 crashes, 43 fatalities
    11. Reno, NV: 170 crashes, 128 fatalities
    12. San Diego, CA: 169 crashes, 82 fatalities
    13. Talkeetna, AK: 161 crashes, 40 fatalities
    14. Las Vegas, NV: 159 crashes, 34 fatalities
    15. Orlando, FL: 152 crashes, 36 fatalities
    16. Englewood, CO: 152 crashes, 27 fatalities
    17. Chandler, AZ: 144 crashes, 16 fatalities
    18. Jacksonville, FL: 142 crashes, 41 fatalities
    19. Palmer, AK: 142 crashes, 12 fatalities
    20. San Antonio, TX: 137 crashes, 39 fatalities
    21. Mesa, AZ: 136 crashes, 27 fatalities
    22. Los Angeles, CA: 134 crashes, 95 fatalities
    23. Fort Lauderdale, FL: 130 crashes, 41 fatalities
    24. Seattle, WA: 129 crashes, 17 fatalities
    25. Fort Worth, TX: 128 crashes, 9 fatalities

    Aircraft Crashes and Fatalities by Make and Model

    Which make or manufacturer planes crash the most? Which ones kill the most people?
    More than half (54 percent) of all aviation accidents in the NTSB’s database involve either a Cessna (25,865 crashes), Piper (14,105 crashes)or Beech (5,098) aircraft. These three manufacturers have historically been the largest producers of aircraft for general aviation purposes – though both Beech and Cessna have since become subsidiaries of Textron Aviation.

    While it stands to reason that the manufacturers involved in the most crashes would also be involved in the most fatalities, this isn’t quite the case. Cessna crashes led to the more fatalities than any other make with 9,216 deaths), but Boeing leaps up to second with 8,203 deaths. Airbus – Boeing’s only real competitor – also jumped into the top five with 2,397 deaths. The two large jet manufacturers place in the top five should not be surprising, as they have essential had a duopoly over large jet market since the early 1990s, thanks to a series of mergers and acquisitions.

    Which airplanes crash the most?

    Cessnas and Pipers. In fact, the top 15 aircraft models in total crashes are all made by those two manufacturers – and nine of the top ten are Cessnas. The Cessna 152 was involved in nearly 800 more crashes than any other aircraft.

    In terms of fatalities, Boeing aircraft occupy four of the top five – the Boeing 737-200 has killed the most people at 906 deaths, followed by the original Boeing 737, the Boeing 777-206 and the Boeing MD-82.

    Here is a full list of the top 25 aircraft modes by crashes and fatalities:

    Aircraft that
    Crash the Most

    MAKE & MODEL TOTAL CRASHES
    Cessna 152 2320
    Cessna 172 1521
    Cessna 172N 1141
    Piper PA-28-140 901
    Cessna 172M 781
    Cessna 150 773
    Cessna 172P 675
    Cessna 150M 584
    Cessna 180 581
    Cessna 182 574
    Piper Pa-18 571
    Piper Pa-28-161 557
    Piper PA-28-180 556
    Piper Pa-18-150 543
    Piper PA-28-181 518
    Bell 206B 503
    Piper Pa-38-112 464
    Cessna 150L 451
    Beech A36 397
    Cessna 170B 376
    Cessna 140 373
    Grumman G-164A 364
    Cessna 172S 355
    Cessna 182P 345

    Aircraft that
    Killed the Most People

    MAKE & MODEL TOTAL FATALITIES
    Boeing 737-200 906
    Boeing 737 780
    Boeing 777 - 206 534
    Cessna 172N 425
    Boeing MD-82 403
    Cessna 152 385
    Airbus A321 381
    Piper PA-28-181 378
    Boeing 747-168 349
    Tupolev TU-154 349
    Cessna 172 340
    Airbus A330 331
    Piper PA-28-140 314
    Beech A36 313
    Boeing 767-200ER 295
    Boeing 747-121 270
    Airbus A300B4-605R 266
    Piper PA-28-180 263
    Douglas DC-8-63 263
    Mcdonnell Douglas DC-9-32 262
    Boeing 757-200 254
    Piper PA-23-250 249
    Cessna 172M 244
    Bell 206B 242

    The Most Deadly Aviation Disasters in History

    When looking at the worst aviation disasters by total deaths, many were the result of terrorist attacks, bombings and military exercises. However, the 10 worst aircraft crashes in aviation history are:

    1. The Tenerife Airport Disaster

      Tenerife, Canary Island

      March 27, 1977

      Deaths: 583

      Survivors: 61

      Cause: Pilot Error

      Aircraft Involved: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747-206B and Pan Am Boeing 747-121

    2. Japan Airlines Flight 123

      August 12, 1985

      Mount Takamagahara, Japan

      Deaths: 520

      Survivors: Four

      Cause: In-flight Structural Failure

      Aircraft Involved: JAL Boeing 747-146SR

    3. Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision

      November 12, 1996

      Charkhi Dadri, Haryana, India

      Deaths: 349

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Pilot Error Resulting in Mid-Air Collision

      Aircraft Involved: Saudi Arabian Arilines Boeing 747-168B and Kazakhstan Airlines Illyushin II-76TD

    4. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 Crash

      March 3, 1974

      Northeast of Paris, France

      Deaths: 346

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Cargo Door Failure Due to Design Flaw

      Aircraft Involved: Turkish Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10

    5. Saudia Flight 163

      August 19, 1980

      Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

      Deaths: 301

      Survivors: None

      Cause: In-flight Fire

      Aircraft Involved: Saudia Lockheed L-1011-200

    6. American Airlines Flight 191

      May 25, 1979

      Des Plaines, Illinois (A Suburb of Chicago)

      Deaths: 273 (Two Ground Fatalities)

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Improper Maintenance (Engine Detachment)

      Aircraft Involved: American Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10

    7. American Airlines Flight 587

      November 12, 2001

      Queens, New York City, New York

      Deaths: 265 (Five Ground Fatalities)

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Pilot Error (Excessive Ruder Use Leading to Separation of the Vertical Stabilizer)

      Aircraft Involved: American Airlines Airbus A300B4-605R

    8. China Airlines Flight 140

      April 26, 1994

      Nagoya, Japan

      Deaths: 264

      Survivors: Seven

      Cause: Pilot Error and Poor Training

      Aircraft Involved: China Airlines Airbus A300B4-622R

    9. Nigeria Airways Flight 2120

      July 11, 1991

      Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

      Deaths: 261

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Improper Maintenance (Under Inflated Tire That Lead to a Fire After Takeoff)

      Aircraft Involved: Nationair Douglas DC-8-61 (Operated on Behalf of Nigeria Airways)

    10.  New Zealand Flight 901

      November 28, 1979

      Mount Erebus, Antarctica

      Deaths: 257

      Survivors: None

      Cause: Computer Coordinates Where Changed to Steer Aircraft Directly into Mount Erebus

      Aircraft Involved: Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30

    (Note: This list excludes planes that were shot down or destroyed in terrorist attacks – such as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 (2,996 total deaths), the Air India Flight 182 Bombing (329 deaths), Malysia Airlines Flight 17 (298 deaths) – or those involved in military exercises.)