Another way of asking this is: Of all the airliners that have taken off and returned to the earth, what proportion have actually landed?

Or another way: If you were born as an airliner, what is the probability that you would die at work?

I'm specifically interested in:

  • airliners, being used as airliners (for example, not as emergency troop transports)
  • hull-losses
  • aircraft that took off and then crashed or were otherwise lost (i.e. not simply destroyed while on the ground)

We'd have to start with the total number of airliners constructed, which at a guess is a number in the region of 50-60 thousand - but perhaps someone has a reasonably accurate figure already collated from available sources.

Then we'd need to know the total number lost in flight - I guess it's just possible someone has such a figure.

It would be interesting to see how the figure changes for aircraft limited to particular eras.

Related questions

A related question has been pointed out in the comments, What percentage of airplanes are involved in a crash in their lifetime?

That's not explicitly about airliners, though in fact most of the discussion there seems to be based on airliners, and it contains some useful figures, including in one of the answers:

That's a rate of 1.56 % aircraft with a fatal accident, or 1 / 64.

This is just an extrapolation from data about 2014, but it's a start.

However, it is based on incidents that kill people, rather than flights that damage airframes beyond repair, so it is about something slightly different.


Okay, let's try for a first approximation. Some heavily-produced airliners; for simplicity I'm only counting jets. (ie, I don't want to try and work out how to deal with the DC-3...)

  • A320 family. 7481 built, 35 hull losses (0.5%)
  • A330. 1330 built, 11 hull losses (0.8%)
  • Boeing 727. 1832 built, 118 hull losses (6.4%, mostly out of service)
  • Boeing 737. 9401 built, 184 hull losses (2.0%)
  • Boeing 747. 1528 built, 60 hull losses (3.9%)
  • Boeing 757. 1050 built, 8 hull losses (0.8%)
  • Boeing 767. 1097 built, 15 hull losses (1.4%)
  • Boeing 777. 1467 built, 6 hull losses (0.4%)
  • DC-9. 976 built, 101 hull losses (10.3%, mostly out of service)
  • MD-80. 1191 built, 35 hull losses (2.9%)
  • Tu-134. 854 built, 69 hull losses (8.1%, mostly out of service)
  • Tu-154. 1026 built, 69 hull losses (6.7%, mostly out of service)

This is a partial list, but it includes (I think?) every type with around 1000 or more examples built. It is thus probably representative of the general population of jet airliners. Total 29,322 aircraft, of which 711 (~2.5%) were eventually hull losses.

Now, not all hull losses are flight accidents - there are ground fires, accidents, military action, hurricanes, all sorts of other things - but the majority are. It's probably reasonable to estimate that the overall hull-loss-due-to-flight-accidents-so-far rate is thus a little lower, around 2%, but probably not much below that.

Now, it's worth noting that this isn't quite the same as

If you were born as an airliner, what is the probability that you would die at work?

...because some of these aircraft will probably be hull losses, it just hasn't happened yet. If Boeing stopped building 747s tomorrow but airlines kept flying them, the hull loss rate would steadily creep up over time until all examples were either crashed or retired. So if you want to work from that perspective, the "eventual accident rate" will be higher. I've flagged the ones which are nearly completely out of service, where these will be approaching a "lifetime" loss rate - they're noticeably higher than the others.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think your assumption of 'The majority of hull losses are in flight' is exactly the statistic that the OP is asking for more details on. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '17 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth Agree this bit's somewhat weak, but it's a figure that looks right after reading over the accident lists. It's hard to get a clearly defined list of just hull losses for any of these (other than the ones with only a handful, eg 777), but the WP page for the Tu-134 has almost all of them in a convenient table. For that particular type, ~85% of those were in-flight, counting takeoff & landing accidents, so it suggests the overall guess is in the realm of possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Mar 26 '17 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrew, you are using Wikipedia for this? You should get better numbers at https://aviation-safety.net/. Unfortunately they don't seem to classify in-flight/on-ground either. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Mar 26 '17 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec it's fine for basic numbers and a quick first-order answer, IME :-) the AS.net data is good, but doesn't have total built so can only really answer one side. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Mar 26 '17 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ The rate for those types close to end of commercial service should be somewhat higher than the one for current types will be close to their end of service, because subsequent generations of aircraft generally tend to be safer to operate than their predecessors. $\endgroup$ Aug 14 '18 at 21:01

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