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Aviation Accidents and Incidents

An Analysis of 37 Years of Airplane Crash Data

How safe are airlines and general aircraft? We looked at every aviation accident and incident reported to the NTSB from 1982-2018 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 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?

We 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.

82,727

crashes & incidents

42,226

Fatal Injuries

17,740

Serious Injuries

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 has bounced up and down seemingly at random. While it stands to reason that less crashes means less 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 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.

event year count 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

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.

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 20218, 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 CRASHES
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.)