This question about the new Heathrow runway increasing flights per day by 700 mentions that this airport (and many others around the world) runs at over 98% capacity.

This got me thinking, is there a correlation between airport capacity and accident rates?

One would expect that the airports running at the highest capacity, would have the highest rate of fatalities per million flights, or whatever metric you want to use. But I am interested to know if this is the case or not.

*Only interested, for statistical reasons, in incidents that occurred within 5 minutes of take-off or on approach.

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    $\begingroup$ Does this question mean anything? At what point can we separate an air crash from an airport? The two most high-profile crashes in recent months are suspected to have occurred due to a fault in flight control software. Are those crashes related to the airports they departed from? A 777 crashed landing at Heathrow because of ice crystals in the fuel. Is that related to the originating airport, or the destination? The premise is insufficiently well defined to be answerable. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ "One would expect that the airports running at the highest capacity, would have the highest rate of fatalities per million flights" Why would one expect that? I can't think of any logical reason as to why that would be the case $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud I think you need some citations to backup your claims. $\endgroup$
    – Notts90
    May 2, 2019 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud So why is the fatality rate high on busy roads? Because cars sometimes hit each other, and more cars mean more collisions. Planes, however, do not hit each other. When planes crash, it happens for other reasons (mechanical failure, human error etc.) - and there is no logical reason to assume that the rate of such occurrences is higher at busier airports. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think the problem with this question is that it conflates incidents, accidents and fatalites. It's almost inevitable that there will be more incidents such as equipment failures because there are more aircraft around, accidents involving damage and/or injuries seem to correlate more to which country you are in (judging from a quick glance at AVHerald), and fatalities are very unusual at airports $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


It is unreasonable to assume that a busier airport has a higher rate of fatalities compared to a smaller airport. There is just no logical reason to think so. The total number of fatalities may well be higher simply because there is a larger number of flights, but I know that is not what you are asking.

You might think that busier airports would have more plane accidents the same way that busier roads have more car accidents. This comparison is flawed. The reason busy roads have more accidents is because more cars lead to more collisions. However, with very, very, very few exceptions, airplanes simply do not collide, especially not at busy airports where the air traffic is managed by air traffic control.

Additionally, larger airports typically have better equipped fire and rescue services, so if accidents occur, they are probably less likely to be fatal. Also, pilots flying to busy airports are typically experienced commercial pilots, since smaller private (leisure) flights are not really taking place at large airports.

I would expect the fatality rate to be much higher at a small, uncontrolled airfield with a short grass runway, no fire and rescue services and where the majority of flights are flown by relatively inexperienced private pilots operating under visual flight rules.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. The last paragraph is particularly apposite. The AAIB records show the most common form of accident is a bad landing, which also has the lowest and least serious injuries. EFATOs are much more deadly but comparatively rare. These figures reflect a much higher rate of accidents and incidents amongst private pilots $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 14:00

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