Airlines with the worst safety records

Airlines with the worst safety records (Getty)

Safety records amongst Australian airlines are remarkably good. Indeed, Qantas doesn't shy away from boasting that it's the world's oldest airline to have never had a fatal accident. But it's not the same story worldwide — and some airlines look considerably iffier when you start looking at the crash data.

Worst overall record

Deciding which airline has the worst overall safety record depends entirely on how you define 'worst'. Arguably the most illuminating measurement to use is Adjusted Fatal Event calculation. This adjusts the number of air crashes depending on the percentage of passengers that died in them. To give an example, say an airline has two accidents. In the first, all passengers die, while in the second only half die. The Adjusted Fatal Event figure for this airline would be 1.5.

Using this measurement (and, frankly, pretty much any other measurement) for airlines that there is reliable crash data for, the worst safety record belongs to Cubana. According to the figures provided by OAGback Aviation Solutions for flights taken between 1985 and 2009, there were eight fatal accidents on 320,000 Cubana flights in that period. That's two more accidents than any other airline, and with far fewer flights taken than almost all other major airlines.

And the Cuban national airline's Adjusted Fatal Event score? A deeply unimpressive 5.23. Other airlines with bad Adjusted Fatal Event scores include Pakistan Airlines (4.18), American Airlines (4.04), American Eagle (3.72) and Iran Air (3.42). A full list can be found at

Worst accident rate

Of course, the Adjusted Fatal Event figure doesn't give the complete picture. It doesn't really take into account the number of flights operated. It's hardly fair to compare Cubana's 320,000 flights to American Airlines' 20.2 million. Using the same source, when you compare the records of airlines to the average fatal accident rate, it's a different story for some.

As an example, American Airlines' accident rate is 234 percent better than average. For comparison, Qantas (no fatal accidents in 2.63 million flights) does 82 percent better than average and the leading airline by this measurement is Southwest Airlines in the US (no fatal accidents in 17.87 million flights and 568 percent better than average).

Predictably enough, Cubana comes off when you compare its accident rate like this. The Cuban airline's record is 513 percent worse than the average. Other shockers are Iran Air (312 percent worse), Pakistan Airlines (373 percent worse) and Indian Airlines (234 percent worse).

Most deadly plane crashes of all time

The most deadly plane crashes of all time are considered to be the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The 2907 fatalities listed by include those who died on the ground, as well as the passengers of the American Airlines and United Airlines planes.

September 11 does skew the stats for American and United somewhat, as the deaths can hardly be attributed to human or mechanical error on behalf of the airline.

Otherwise, the worst air disaster of all time took place at Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands. A total of 578 passengers died when a KLM flight collided with a Pan Am plane on the runway in 1977.

The worst accident involving a single plane was when Japan Airlines flight 123 from Tokyo to Osaka smashed into the side of Mt Ogura in 1985, killing 520.

As for recent years, the worst accident of the last decade involving a passenger plane (excluding September 11) also took place in 2001. American Airlines flight 587 crashed into a residential suburb of Queens, New York. 251 passengers, nine crew members and five people on the ground died — and this time, pilot error was the official cause.

Most regular major crashes

American Airlines has the dubious honour of being in two of the worst 10 and three of the worst 20 air crashes of all time — although that does include September 11 as well as the Queens crash and a 1979 disaster that saw 273 die in Chicago.

Saudi Arabian Airlines also has the dubious honour of featuring in two of the top 10 most deadly air disasters — a fire on the plane at Riyadh airport in 1980 killed all 301 aboard, whilst 349 died during a mid-air collision with a Kazakhstan Airlines flight on the way to New Delhi in 1996.

Other airlines that don't come out smelling of roses are China Airlines (three of the top 50 most fatal accidents), and Russia's Aeroflot (seven of the top 100).

Worst record of airlines flying to Australia

Of course, most Australians are unlikely to encounter the likes of Cubana and Pakistan Airlines, but there are some airlines with patchy history that do fly to Australia. American Airlines is one, albeit with mitigating circumstances.

The carrier that really raises eyebrows is China Airlines. The Taiwan-based carrier managed six fatal crashes in 910,000 flights between 1985 and 2009. That's 469 percent worse than the average accident rate, with an Adjusted Fatal Event score of 4.98.

Thai Airways doesn't have a gleaming safety record either — four fatal crashes in 1.98 million flights, an Adjusted Fatal Event figure of 3.69 and an accident rate that is 306 percent worse than average.

Don't freak out too much though! On the flipside, there are plenty of airlines with super-safe track records.

Do these figures deter you from flying on particular airlines? Have you had good experiences on any of the airlines mentioned?

User comments
thats a useful info if it is true
vr nice and informative u have posted mate thanx for this
I frequently fly to China and South America for employment reasons, I try and avoid Qantas when ever possible, their inflight service leaves somethnig to be desired even flying Business Class does not grant you better service. The Asian airlines cabin service and friendlyness leaves Qantas wanting, maybe Qantas flight attendents require training by other airlines to improve their image.
All I can say is, it's not a matter of "if" but "when" QANTAS has a jet crash, and I sure hope it's in a country used to dealing with such emergencies, because if it happens in Australia, it'll be horriffic. Also, there's a reason airlines like Aeroflot and AirChina (not China Airlines, they're different) aren't allowed to fly to Australia. Catch an internal flight over there and your appreciation for aircraft maintenance suddenly skyrockets. It's always a good idea to have a seat that's bolted to the floor, a seatbelt that works, a cabin which pressurises properly, and so on. Though I think my favourite OMG! moment came from a business client who told me of witnessing two "airport employees" playing a drinking game in the airport bar somewhere in Russia. Turns out these two clowns were the pilots and were both off their faces by the time it came to take off. He said "I'm not a religious man, but I swear I prayed the whole flight." Eeek!
I have caught more than 20 Cubana flights between Cuba and Mexico and still live to tell the tale. Their international flights are fine. I would not however take any internal Cuban flights as those are the scary ones.
it is only a play on words that allows Qantas to claim to have had no deaths. In fact they have had around 60 deaths The claim is to have not had any deaths on international flights and jet flights.
I think the information in your article needs closer checking - to the best of my knowledge American Airlines do not operate into Australia in their own right and actually use a Qantas codesharing arrangement. The only US passenger airlines operating into Australia are United, Delta & Hawaian. Also, I understand Qantas have had at least one fatal crash - in PNG many, many years ago. They have however lost a number of aircraft (non-fatal) including a Constellation that burnt to the ground after running off a runway (I think in Mauritius) and the 747-400 that went off the runway in Bangkok (reported to have cost more than 70% of the aircraft's value to repair & which any other airline would've written off!!)
I have flown return, from Brisbane to the Solomon islands 4 times, so 8 flights... The 1st was with OZ Jet & the flights were good & calm, but the plane's interior was so old & in poor condition, seats torn etc & the flight crew were not comforting or helpful for a 1st time flyer & the plane felt so over crowded & uncomfortable... My 2nd return flight was with Sky Airworld in their Embraer Jet... The plane was fantastic, clean, modern, smooth & roomy, with 2 seats either side of the ailse & the flight crew were wonderful, helpful & so friendly & the food was great. I flew on the bigger & smaller sky airworlds Embraer Jet, & both were fantastic & once hit an air pocket & dropped fast & suddenly for a couple of seconds & the crew were wonderful & no dramas other than that.. My 3rd & 4th flights was with Virgins- Pacific Blue. Fantastic flight crews, nice planes & reliable from booking, check in & getting to the destination. Only down side, have to pay for drinks & food
After working in Indonesia for some time and being warned by many "worldly travellers" of the poor safety record and shocking service from Garuda,I would like to advise anyone contemplating flying with Garuda that you will be pleasantly suprised at the quality of service and the comfort of the aircraft that Garuda use both internationally and domestically.I recently had to fly with an Australian carrier (not by choice)and would rate Garuda as the better airline,especially in terms of staff friendliness.
We have flown many times over the last 35 years and found Thai Airways came first. Service is exelent the food is good and comfortible seating. Closley followed by Quantas, Quantas service is more laid back but very friendley. We don't think of accidents, If your time is up,Yor time is up.