Aviation is getting safer as time goes on. Accidents today are an unusual occurrence, thanks to ongoing improvements in aircraft technology and operational safety. Some aircraft types have made it through their entire operational lives without a single hull loss – we take a look at which ones, and why.
The zero-loss planes
Aviation accidents are not the norm, particularly in more recent times. As technology has improved, flying has become safer than ever, with major accidents now an unusual event. Despite this, hull losses do sometimes occur, even today. These range from fatal disasters like the accidents involving the 737 MAX to more minor incidents that don’t include loss of life, but do make the aircraft beyond economical repair.
Over the years, some aircraft types have managed to operate without a single hull loss. That includes dramatic accidents through to minor on-ground incidents resulting in the aircraft being written off. According to Boeing data, we can see that these are:
- Boeing 717
- CRJ700, 900 and 1000
- Airbus A380
- Boeing 787
- Boeing 747-8
- Airbus A350
- Bombardier C-Series/Airbus A220
- The Airbus A320neo family
Of the types that did have hull losses, the A340 never had a fatality onboard. It had 0.59 hull losses per million departures, and two hull losses included on the Boeing data. This included one runway excursion, and an aircraft attacked by the Tamil Tigers in Colombo (CMB).
So what makes these plane types so immune from accidents?
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Low utilization and newer construction
With the exception of the CRJs, the 717 and the 787, most of these aircraft are relatively new. In fact, all the rest of the aircraft types on the list had, at the time the data was generated, yet to log more than a million departures. That might seem surprising when you consider that aircraft like the A380 have been around for more than a decade.
However, given that the 747-8, the A350 and the A380 are all very much long-haul aircraft, they will be doing a maximum of one or two departures per day. Therefore, it can take a long time to notch up a million departures. Given their profile of spending more of their working lives cruising and less time taking off and landing, these types spend fewer hours in the ‘risk’ phase of the flight.
Data from Boeing suggests that 65% of fatal accidents occur during takeoff and initial climb, or final approach and landing. Some 7% of fatal accidents take place even before the aircraft has started to move.
For the aircraft that have racked up more than a million departures, it is likely their low market penetration that has seen them operating so incident-free. The 717, for example, only ever numbered 155 in-service aircraft, a world away from the 10,000 plus Boeing 737s that have flown over the years.
And it’s not been without its incidents entirely – the 717 has been involved in five accidents and incidents, including an on-ground collision, an emergency landing where the nose gear didn’t extend, and an attempted hijacking.
The real outlier here is the 787. More than 1,000 Dreamliners are in operation today, but not one has been involved in a hull loss. Of course, 1,000 is still far fewer than some other aircraft lines, but it’s still a significant fleet.
The benefit for the 787 is that, for a start, it was a clean-sheet design, able to benefit from all the modern technologies available at the time. And it hasn’t been without its incidents – in total, five noteworthy accidents have taken place. These included fuel leaks, battery fires and engine malfunctions. However, none have yet resulted in an aircraft being written off.