Worldwide commercial jet aviation resulted in fewer accidents in 2010 than in 2009, according to data released by Boeing Commercial Airplanes.1,2 That was the best news in the year-over-year comparisons. However, on-board fatalities jumped from 413 in 2009 to 555 in 2010. The number of runway excursions — veer-offs and overruns — increased by one, and runway excursions as a percentage of all accidents were higher.
A total of 40 accidents occurred in 2010. That represented a 35 percent decrease from 62 the previous year and a 25 percent decrease from 53 in 2008. Eleven accidents were classified as “major” in 2010, compared with 13 in 2009.3
Nine of the 2010 accidents were fatal, including one that occurred while the aircraft was stopped on the runway; a passenger later died from injuries sustained during the evacuation.
Six of the eight in-flight fatal accidents in 2010 occurred during the approach and landing phases of flight, compared with four of eight in 2009. The 26 approach and landing accidents accounted for 65 percent of the total accidents, compared with 60 percent in 2009 and 58 percent in 2008.
One of the 13 runway excursion accidents was fatal — the overrun at Mangalore, India, on May 22, which cost 158 lives (see, “Fatal Persistence”). Excursion accidents represented 33 percent of total accidents, compared with 19 percent in 2009 and 30 percent in 2008.
A single accident — a fatal one — occurred during cruise flight in 2010. Seven accidents, of the total of 62, were in the cruise phase the prior year.
Changes from one year to the next can suggest possible trends but are subject to “confounding” factors; for example, the number of fatalities in an accident may be influenced by the number of passengers who happen to be on the flight. Boeing’s annual accident summaries provide longer timelines where the data comparisons are likely to be more meaningful, principally differences in accidents since commercial jet aviation began in significant numbers in 1959, and during 10-year study periods.
Viewed in a wider time frame, some improvement is seen. In the 2001–2010 period, there were 4,707 on-board fatalities in scheduled passenger service, compared with 4,938 in 2000–2009, a decrease of 5 percent. The number of fatal accidents in scheduled passenger service dropped from 69 in 2000–2009 to 67 in the more recent 10-year span. There was one fewer charter operations fatal accident in 2001–2010 than in 2000–2009.
Cargo flights were involved in 15 fatal accidents in the most recent 10 years compared with 14 in the prior 10 years, resulting in 46 on-board fatalities compared with 42. The number of accidents in cargo operations was down in the latest 10-year span, from 81 to 80.
Considering all accidents in the worldwide commercial jet fleet, no change in recent trends appeared in the latest summary. Fatal accidents were reduced from 89 in 2000–2009 to 87 in 2001–2010. All accidents increased from 393 to 399, respectively.
In accidents from 2001 through 2010, 87, or 22 percent, were fatal. For 2000–2009, the equivalent figure was 23 percent; for 1999–2008 and 1998–2007, 25 percent each. From 1959 through 2010, 34 percent of accidents were fatal.
The most recent 10-year period included 180 substantial damage accidents with no fatalities, representing 45 percent of all accidents. Among non-fatal accidents, 4.5 percent involved no substantial damage but serious injuries in 2001–2010. In the 1959–2010 stretch, the corresponding percentage was 4.9 percent.
For 1959 through 2010, 88 fatal accidents — 15 percent of fatal accidents — occurred in the absence of substantial damage. For 2001 through 2010, the percentage was the same.
Scheduled commercial passenger operations had a fatal accident rate of 0.40 per million departures in 2001–2010. All other operations, including categories such as charter passenger, charter cargo, maintenance test and training, had a fatal accident rate of 0.67 per million departures.
Boeing has adopted the practice of tabulating fatalities according to the standardized taxonomy of the U.S. Commercial Aviation Safety Team/International Civil Aviation Organization (CAST/ICAO).4 For the most recent 10-year study period, “loss of control in flight” (LOC-I) and “controlled flight into terrain” (CFIT) were the categories with the greatest number of on-board fatalities. The LOC-I on-board fatalities, numbering 1,756, were almost unchanged from 2000–2009. The on-board loss of life from CFIT accidents, however, which totaled 961 in 2000–2009, was greater in the latest period at 1,007.
The third greatest number of on-board fatalities in 2001–2010 was amalgamated by Boeing as “runway excursion (RE) landing” combined with “abnormal runway contact” (ARC) and “undershoot/overshoot” (USOS). The on-board fatalities, 766, in the latest 10-year time frame were higher than those in the previous 10-year tally, 606. The equivalent number in 1999–2008 was 408.
There was no increase in on-board fatalities from runway excursions on takeoff between 2001–2010 and 2000–2009: 154 on-board fatalities, 38 external fatalities.
- Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents: Worldwide Operations 1959–2010. June 2011. www.boeing.com/news/techissues/pdf/statsum.pdf.
- The data are limited to commercial jet airplanes over 60,000 lb (27,216 kg) maximum gross weight. Airplanes manufactured in the Soviet Union or Commonwealth of Independent States are excluded because of the lack of operational data.
An airplane accident is defined as “an occurrence associated with the operation of an airplane that takes place between the time any person boards the airplane with the intention of flight and such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which death or serious injury results from being in the airplane; direct contact with the airplane or anything attached thereto; or direct exposure to jet blast; the airplane sustains substantial damage; or the airplane is missing or completely inaccessible.” Occurrences involving test flights or hostile action such as sabotage or hijacking are excluded.
- Boeing defines a major accident as one meeting any of three conditions: the airplane was destroyed; there were multiple fatalities; or there was one fatality and the airplane was substantially damaged.
- The taxonomy is described at www.intlaviationstandards.org.