Over the decades
A look at aviation fatality rates over the decades. The figures are for regularly scheduled commercial flights involving U.S. airlines.
- 2002-2011: Two deaths per 100 million passengers (153 fatalities among 7.1 billion passengers).
- 1992-2001: 20 deaths per 100 million passengers (1,135 fatalities among 5.8 billion passengers).
- 1982-1991: 22 deaths per 100 million passengers (881 fatalities among 4 billion passengers).
- 1972-1981: 61 deaths per 100 million passengers (1,502 fatalities among 2.4 billion passengers).
- 1962-1971: 133 deaths per 100 million passengers (1,696 fatalities among 1.3 billion passengers).
Source: Associated Press analysis of data from National Transportation Safety Board and Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
New York Boarding an airplane has never been safer.
The past 10 years have been the best in the country’s aviation history with 153 fatalities. That’s two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights, according to an Associated Press analysis of government accident data.
The improvement is remarkable. Just a decade earlier, at the time the safest, passengers were 10 times as likely to die when flying on an American plane. The risk of death was even greater during the start of the jet age, with 1,696 people dying — 133 out of every 100 million passengers — from 1962 to 1971. The figures exclude acts of terrorism.
Sitting in a pressurized, aluminum tube seven miles above the ground may never seem like the most-natural thing. But consider this: You are more likely to die driving to the airport than flying across the country. There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.
“I wouldn’t say air crashes of passenger airliners are a thing of the past. They’re simply a whole lot more rare than they used to be,” says Todd Curtis, a former safety engineer with Boeing and director of the Airsafe.com Foundation.
The improvements came even as the industry went through a miserable financial period, losing $54.5 billion in the past decade. Just to stay afloat, airlines eliminated meals and added fees for checked luggage.
But safety remained a priority. No advertisement of tropical beaches can supplant the image of charred metal scattered across a field.
There are still some corners of the world where flying is risky. Russia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia have particularly high rates of deadly crashes. Russia had several fatal crashes in the past year, including one that killed several prominent hockey players. Africa only accounts for 3 percent of world air traffic but had 14 percent of fatal crashes.
Still, 2011 was a good year to fly. It had the second-fewest number of fatalities worldwide, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, with 507 people dying in crashes. Seven out of 28 planes in fatal crashes were on airlines already prohibited from flying into European Union because of known safety problems. (There were fewer fatalities in 2004 — 323 — but there were also fewer people flying then.)