What are the Odds of a Plane Crashing?

The news of a plane crash can be frightening, leaving many to wonder if flying is any safer than driving. What they fail to realize is that car crashes usually don’t get the attention plane crashes do and there are too many car crashes happening around the world to report. What scares people more is the likelihood of surviving a plane crash.

Getting into a plane crash is extremely rare and fatalities as a result of a plane crash are even rarer. Statistics show that flying is a lot safer than driving and the chances of a plane crashing are far less than a car crash. So how safe is flying and what are the odds of surviving a plane crash? Let’s find out.

How Likely is a Plane Crash?

Travel around the world airplane routes seamless pattern

Aviation has advanced at a rapid pace in the last decade and we have reached a point where flying has become very safe. Arnold Barnett, Professor of Statistics at MIT and an expert in aviation safety, believes that the odds of a plane crash are in your favor. He said in an interview to ABC News that you need to take one flight every single day for 55 thousand years in order to get involved in a fatal plane crash.

The probability according to NTSB (U.S. National Transportation Safety Board) turns out to be 0.006 flight accidents per 100,000 flight hours or 1 accident per 16.3 million flight hours [1]. Compare that to data of flights between 1983 to 2000 and the probability was 0.030 per 100K flights, which is significantly higher and shows how safe flying has become. The report also concludes that during the last 35 years, all occupants survived in 94% of recorded accidents.

What are the Odds of Surviving a Plane Crash?

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The odds of surviving an airplane crash depends on a variety of circumstances, including weather, altitude, technical faults, plane age, pilot skills and so on. That’s why there is no clear-cut formula for calculating the odds. Previous data can be a good indicator of how likely you are to survive a plane crash, which shows that the likelihood is actually very high even in case of a serious crash.

The odds of getting into a plane crash are pretty slim, but contrary to popular belief, the odds of surviving a crash are also quite high. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the odds of surviving a plane crash are more than 95%. According to an estimate by the European Transport Safety Council, passengers survived in more than 90% plane accidents (worldwide). These numbers are reassuring, thanks to planes getting safer than ever.

Plane Crash Stats

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It was in July 2021 that the last airplane crash happened in the US [2], which was a cargo flight operated by Trans Air. The plane crashed into the ocean and fortunately, both pilots survived. The last time a commercial US flight crashed was in June 2019 in which the crew and all 166 passengers onboard a United Airlines plane survived.

A total of 528 plane crashes happened worldwide since 1970, but only 158 happened after 2010 despite a massive increase in the number of passengers from 2.7 billion to 4.7 billion (2010 vs 2019). 2017 was the safest year in the history of commercial flights with five crashes and 12 deaths.

Crashes and Fatalities by Year

Year No. of crashes No of Deaths
2021 5 74
2020 10 303
2019 14 214
2018 18 422
2017 5 12
2016 11 249
2015 17 471
2014 14 863
2013 16 188
2012 14 389
2011 17 145
2010 17 647

Aircrafts Models that Have Crashed the Most

Airplane Number of Accidents No. of Deaths
Boeing 737 149 4,360
Boeing 747 49 3,713
Airbus A300 33 1,416
Airbus A320 28 1,111
Boeing 737 27 1,137

Countries that Had the Most Plane Crashes

Country No. of crashes
USA 76
Indonesia 21
India 21
Brazil 18
China 15
France 15
Taiwan 13
Canada 12
Turkey 12
Libya 10

Airlines Involved in Most Plane Crashes

Airlines No. of crashes
American Airlines 11
Air France 11
Indian Airlines 10
China Airlines 9
Korean Air 9
Pakistan Int. Airlines 8
United Airlines 7
Thai Airways 6
Egypt Air 6
Ethiopian Airlines 6

Plane Crashes vs. Car Crashes: How Safer is Flying Than Driving?

Vehicle accident

Stats show that flying is undoubtedly much safer than driving. According to Injury Facts [3] by the National Safety Council (NSC), the odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 101 (1 in 654 for passengers), which is significantly higher than dying in a plane crash. In 2020, there were too few deaths to actually calculate the odds of dying in a plane crash, which summarizes how safe flying is compared to driving.

Compared to a 95 percent chance of survival in case of a plane crash, in 2020 alone 38,824 deaths were caused in 35,766 serious accidents, which turns out to be over 100 fatal motor vehicle accidents each day.

Top Reasons for a Plane Crash

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There can be a number of reasons behind a plane crash, which are usually explained by survivors and the data obtained from the black box. The number one reason turns out to be pilot error followed by mechanical failures and weather. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Lack of visibility, crew unable to properly see the terrain below
  • Losing control because of speed, pitch and banking angle
  • Powerplant System component failure (Engine)
  • Non-powerplant System component failure (other than Engine)
  • Fuel related, including fuel ignition, lack of fuel
  • Low-altitude operations conducted on non-commercial flights
  • Mid-air collision
  • Other reasons and undetermined reasons such as wreckage not found

While news of a plane crash might linger in our memory for a long time, flying has come a long way in the last decade and is a lot safer than other common modes of transportation. The odds of a plane crash decreased despite the exponentially growing number of air travelers, thanks to strict regulations and rules in place for maintenance, training and inspection. The general aviation industry and privately owned planes on the other hand are not so tightly regulated, which is why most plane crashes do not involve commercial flights. If it was just about commercial planes, the odds of a plane crash and related deaths become even slimmer.

References:

[1] https://flightsafety.org/ntsb-data-show-significant-drop-in-accident-rates/

[2] https://executiveflyers.com/how-often-do-planes-crash/

[3] https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/all-injuries/preventable-death-overview/odds-of-dying/