The chances of perishing in an airliner are lower than ever, according to the NTSB, which has updated its Survivability of Accidents Involving Part 121 US Air Carrier Operations, 1983 Through 2000 report to include 2001-2017 data. In it, the NTSB says that the number of fatalities in all Part 121 accidents from 2001-2017 was roughly one quarter of those in the previous 18-year period. “During the 18-year period from 1983 through 2000 … there were 569 accidents involving Part 121 operations,” says the NTSB. Some 12.5% “resulted in at least one occupant fatality. By contrast, during the 17-year period from 2001 through 2017, 4.1% of 565 Part 121 accidents resulted in at least one fatality.” The NTSB notes that “both the overall accident rate and the fatal accident rate per 100,000 flight hours decreased substantially between the two periods. The fatal accident rate during the period 2001 through 2017—0.006 per 100,000 flight hours—is equivalent to about one fatal Part 121 accident for every 16.3 million flight hours.”
The NTSB also notes that despite Part 121 carriers flying more hours in the latter, one-year-shorter period—310 million from 2001-2017 compared to 225 million from 1983 to 2000—there were fewer accidents overall (564 versus 569), resulting in an accident rate decrease from 0.25 to 0.18 per 100,000 flight hours. “Total flight miles and total flight hours … increased between 2001 and 2017, rising 12% and 4%, respectively. The differences in the changes between departures and flight miles and hours can be explained by the average trip length, which increased by about 214 miles between 2001 and 2017,” says the NTSB.
One graph in the NTSB’s data tells much of the story. There were no years in the earlier data set without at least one fatal Part 121 accident. In contrast, seven years in the later set went without a single fatality: 2002, 2011-2012 and 2014-2017.