Is it safe to fly? Crashes, accidents extremely rare, statistics show

CBC News Last Updated: July 24, 2014

Recent news events – including the mysterious disappearance of MH 370 and Air Algerie 5017 – have shaken some passengers' confidence in the airline industry. Statistics indicate, however, that travelling by plane is still among the safest modes of transport. Arnold Barnett, a M.I.T. statistics professor, calculated the death risk for air travellers to be one in 45 million flights, according to a 2013 New York Times report.

The number of flights has increased steadily over the past five years to 36.5 million yearly flights in 2013, according to the International Air Transport Association. The Montreal-based trade group also notes that the total number of accidents and fatal accidents have declined steadily, as shown in the charts below.


IATA defines an accident as an event where ALL of the following criteria are satisfied:

  • Person(s) have boarded the aircraft with the intention of flight (either flight crew or passengers).
  • The intention of the flight is limited to normal commercial aviation activities, specifically scheduled/charter passenger or cargo service. Executive jet operations, training, maintenance/test flights are all excluded.
  • The aircraft is turbine powered and has a certificated Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of at least 5,700KG (12,540 lbs).
  • The aircraft has sustained major structural damage exceeding $ 1 million or 10% of the aircraft's hull reserve value, whichever is lower, or has been declared a hull loss.
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