Many people have a deeply ingrained fear of flying. No matter how they came to develop this phobia, what many of them share in common is a preoccupation with plane crashes, airplane safety, and the risk of death or injury.
However, the best weapon against fear is knowledge. With that in mind, we've compiled and analyzed airplane safety statistics that may help people who are nervous about getting on a flight.
Airline Industry Safety
Pilots, airplane technicians and flight traffic controllers are all highly educated and possess a large amount of specialist knowledge. Pilots face a rigorous training program in order to achieve nationally recognized certification. They must also earn thousands of flight hours before they can even begin flying commercial planes.
They must also go through regular training and re-certification throughout their careers. Essentially, every person who is involved with flying a plane is very, very good at their job. In addition, backup systems in every plane provide for safety during emergencies that would have been fatal just decades ago.
According to statistics provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are 40,000+ flights with 2.6 million passengers within the US alone, every day. The relatively very small number of major accidents a year is a testament to the airline industry’s dedication to safety. See our breakdown of courses for the fear of flying to learn more about airline safety.
Plane Crash Statistics
Sources: National Transportation Safety Board, Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Notes: The figures above represent Part 121 Air Carriers, which are major airline operators who operate on scheduled flights and monitored airspace. Part 135 carriers, which include unscheduled private and medical aircraft flights, are not included. 2018 is the latest year of full crash statistics provided by the NTSB.
- There was a 1 in 3.37 billion chance of dying in a commercial airline plane crash between 2012-2016
- There was a 1 in 20 million chance of being on a commercial airline flight experiencing a fatal accident from 2012-2016
- 98.6% of crashes did not result in a fatality — Of the 140 plane accidents during 2012-2016, only two involved fatalities (1.4%)
“If you took one domestic flight a day, every day of the week, odds are you could go 36,000 years before you’d die in a plane crash.”
-Dr. Arnold Barnett, MIT
Source: Air Travel - MIT Spectrum
2020 Deaths By Transportation Mode
2020 is the most recent year of data available as of updating this article in December of 2022. 2021 data is being collected by the Bureau and expected to be published sometime in 2023.
2020 transportation casualty figures show that individuals are far more likely to die on a highway, train or boat than in an airplane. Highway deaths, in fact, accounted for over 95% of all traffic deaths, while there were no deaths related to commercial airline flights. Pipelines (tracked by the NTSB as a transportation mode) transporting natural gas and hazardous liquids accounted for 13 deaths.
Number of Traffic Casualties By Mode
- Highway: 38,824
- Rail (Trains): 743
- Marine (Boats & Other Water Craft): 838
- Commercial Airlines: 0
It is important to pay close attention to the data reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While Commercial Airlines accounted for 0 deaths in 2020, Commuter Carriers accounted for 5 deaths, and on-demand air taxis accounted for 21 deaths. When comparing these numbers you are more likely to be killed in a private plane vs. a commercial air carrier.
Trains accounted for 743 total deaths in 2020; however, 518 of those deaths, 69.7%, were the result of trespassing - people walking on or being near the tracks. 195 were the result of highway-rail grade crossing, where people tried to drive over the tracks while a train was crossing.
In the marine category, 767 of those 838 deaths (91.5%), were the result of recreational boating. This includes canoes, kayaks, motorboats, pontoons, sailboats, and others. In many cases, recreational boating wouldn't normally be associated with 'travel' or 'transportation,' it is still included in these statistics.
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics Table 2-1 Transportation Fatalities by Mode
Aviophobia (Fear of Flying) Statistics
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans is either:
- Anxious about flying (18.1%)
- Afraid to fly (12.6%)
Of Those Afraid To Fly:
- 73% were fearful of mechanical problems during flight
- 62% were afraid of being on a flight during bad weather
- 36% were afraid of mechanical problems on the ground
- 36% were afraid about flying at night
- 33% feared flying over a body of water
Women are twice as likely as men to experience fear of flying.
Source: “Fear of Flying: Impact on the U.S. Air Travel Industry.” Robert D. Dean, Kerry M. Whitaker. Study sponsored by Boeing Commercial Airplane Company
How safe are airplanes from crashing?
Generally, air travel is very safe, especially when compared to other modes of transportation.
For every 1,000,000 miles you travel in a car, statistically, you can expect to be in about 4.5 crashes. For every 100,000 flights you take on a US Carrier (i.e. Delta, United, American, etc.), statistically, you can expect to be involved in about 1.05 accidents.
Luckily, with agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there is plenty of reliable data that gives us an insight into how we get from Point A to Point B, with some that go as far back as 1960.
What makes a flight ‘safe’? Given the data the BTS provides, someone could loosely categorize a safe flight as one that:
- Does not result in any fatalities
- Does not result in any injuries
Our definition of ‘safe’ somewhat aligns with the FAA definition of an ‘Aircraft Accident.’ The only difference is that the FAA will count an event as an accident if the aircraft receives substantial damage, despite no one being injured and killed.
For example, a pilot overshoots the runway because of bad weather conditions. The plane lands, and no one on board is injured or killed, although the plane is significantly damaged. This would be counted as an accident.
From 2015 to 2020, between passenger cars and trucks (light + large), there were 62,101,894 total crashes and 14,533,165 total injuries. For the same time period, commercial US air carriers had a total of 176 total accidents and 111 total injuries.
It is extremely rare for a plane to crash, which is precisely the reason why we feel as if we often see it in the news. Out of the estimated 8.5M departures that occur annually (2015 to 2020 average), roughly 42.5M cumulatively over that time period, there were only 176 total accidents - a 0.000414% accident per departure rate.
Unfortunately, the BTS does not provide an estimated “annual departure,” number for passenger cars or trucks. It’d be nearly impossible to collect data on that. We cannot make an ‘apples to apples’ comparison for this.
The closest comparison we can make is by looking at the average number of crashes for cars and trucks combined, which, from 2015 to 2020, on average was, 451.89 per 100,000,000 vehicle miles, or 4.5 crashes per 1,000,000 miles.
Assuming you drive the standard 15,000 miles per year starting at age 16, it’ll take you approximately 67 years to drive 1,000,000 miles. Between the age of 16 and 83, you are statistically expected to be in about 4.5 crashes. Compared to 1.05 accidents for every 100,000 flights, you’d need to be on a flight every week for the next 1,923 years before being involved in an accident.
However, we never hear about the accidents in cars or trucks because they’re so common and rarely make for a sensational headline.
How safe is flying on a plane?
Flying on a US Air Carrier is extremely safe. For ease of reading, ‘US Air Carrier’ will be used interchangeably with ‘large commercial airplane'.’
You would need to board and depart on approximately 294,000 flights before you’re even involved in a single accident. To ever be seriously injured on a large commercial airplane, you would need to depart on approximately 476,000 flights. The risk of being killed is even lower. You would need to depart on close to 10,000,000 flights before becoming a fatality.
To further put that in perspective, you would need to take a single flight every single day for the next 274 years to reach 100,000 flights.
The above statements are based on 2015 to 2020 flight data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We look at accidents, serious injuries, and fatalities per departure since the majority of recordable events take place upon take off or landing, and rarely mid-flight.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.34 accidents per 100,000 departures on a large commercial airplane.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.21 serious injuries per 100,000 departures on a large commercial airplane.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.01 fatalities per 100,000 departures on a large commercial airplane.
How Safe is Flying on a US Commuter Air Carrier
For Commuter Air Carrier services, the numbers are slightly higher. You would need to depart on approximately 95,000 flights before being in an accident and approximately 181,000 before being seriously injured or killed.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 1.05 accidents per 100,000 departures on commuter air carriers.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.55 accidents involving at least 1 serious injury per per 100,000 departures on commuter air carriers.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.55 fatalities per 100,000 departures on commuter air carriers.
What is defined as a Commuter Air Carrier?
According to the US Department of Transportation, as defined under section 298.2(e) it is an air carrier which:
- has a design capacity of 60 or fewer seats and
- carries passengers on at least 5 round-trip flights per week on at least one route between two or more points according to published flight schedules which specify the times, days of the week, and places between which they are performed.
These are typically smaller organizations that have several set routes to popular destinations. In the United States, JSX, Grant Aviation, and Boutique Air are examples of Commuter Air Carriers.
How Safe is Flying on a US On-Demand Air Taxi
For US on-demand air taxis, the frequency of fatalities is higher than US commercial airlines and similar to US commuter air carriers. You would need to depart on approximately 181,000 flights before being killed. Data related to accidents and serious injuries on on-demand air taxis is not available.
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.55 fatalities per 100,000 departures on on-demand air taxis.
**What is defined as an On-Demand Air Taxi?
What is defined as an 'air taxi' ?
According to the US Department of Transportation, an air-taxi operator is defined as, “not a commuter air carrier, do not participate in interline agreements, and do not engage in foreign air transportation.”
Is traveling by air safer than a car?
Traveling via a large commercial airline is by far safer than a car. Since many people also travel via truck (ex. Chevy Silverado), which can be above or below the 6,000lb specification, data for light and large trucks is also included below.
Between 2015 and 2020, for passenger cars, there were:
- 32,283,954 total crashes
- 8,831,566 total injuries
- 78,463 total fatalities
For the same time period, for light and large trucks, there were:
- 29,817,940 total crashes
- 5,701,599 total injuries
- 65,641 total fatalities
Between 2015 and 2020, amongst large commercial airlines, there were:
- 176 total accidents
- 111 total injuries
- 5 total fatalities
While the numbers show there were significantly less accidents, injuries, and fatalities for commercial airlines vs passenger cars or trucks, it’s difficult to make any conclusions because the pool of people that drive cars and trucks is significantly higher than those that fly. Therefore, we must look at some specific rates.
For cars and trucks combined:
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 451.89 crashes per 100,000,000 vehicle miles
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 107.24 injuries per 100,000,000 vehicle miles
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.96 fatalities per 100,000,000 vehicle miles
This means that for all the cars and trucks on the road in the United States, when you add up the miles they each individually drive, there will be approximately 452 crashes, 107 injuries, and 1 fatality for every 100,000,000 miles driven.
The average person drives 15,000 miles a year so it will take him or her about 67 years to drive 1,000,000 miles. That means the average person will be in about 4.5 crashes, and experience 1 serious injury in his or her lifetime while driving.
If someone were to drive 100,000,000 miles in his or her lifetime, only then would the probability of dying drastically increase.
For large commercial airlines only (no commuter air carriers or air taxis)::
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.34 accidents per 100,000 departures
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.21 serious injuries per 100,000 departures
- From 2015 to 2020, there have been, on average: 0.01 fatalities per 100,000 departures
This means that for all departing flights in the United States, there are 34 accidents, 21 serious injuries, and 1 fatality for every 1,000,000 departures.
- From 2015 to 2020, there were a total of approximatley 51,421,140 large commercial airline departures in the United States
- From 2015, to 2020, there were a total of 176 non-fatal accidents, 111 injuries, and 5 total fatalities.
However, this doesn’t paint the full picture. Because of how regulated commercial flying is, we have access to data that also shows the following:
- Between 2011 and 2020, there were only 3 years (2013, 2018, 2019) where at least 1 fatality took place (14 total fatalities). For the other 7 years, there were 0 fatalities.
- Total annual accidents, injuries, and fatalities have all been on a downward trend since the early 2000’s.
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