How the Boeing 737 Max 8 compares to the world’s most fatal commercial aircraft

The Boeing 737 Max 8 is now grounded in most of the world.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 is now grounded in most of the world.
Image: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Aircraft usually have bumpy debuts. The Boeing 737 Max 8 is an outlier.

After its second fatal crash in less than five months, nearly every aviation authority around the world with oversight of the plane, grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8. No other commercial aircraft has been implicated in as many fatalities so rapidly since 1966 compared to a list of 46 other aircraft flown in commercial fleets compiled by DVB Bank (pdf), according to a Quartz analysis of Aviation Safety Network data.

For our analysis we omitted terrorism, military aircraft, and deaths of bystanders (those killed on the ground as a result of the crash). To be sure, the number of accidents attributed to an aircraft model is often driven by the popularity of that plane, the routes it flies, and how many people fit onboard. For these reasons, the most popular planes are usually the ones with the most fatal accidents.

The Boeing 737 Max 8, which made its first flight in 2016, is a popular plane.

Compared to the planes involved in accidents with the most fatalities since 1966, the 737 Max 8 has had more fatalities in its first years in service than any of the other. The McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, which Delta Air Lines once flew, and the DC-9-31 variant were then next most fatal following their introduction.

Well-known and popular commercial aircraft have been involved in far more fatal accidents than the Boeing 737 Max 8. The 3,065 fatalities onboard the Tupolev Tu-154 are more than any of the 47 aircraft models Quartz analyzed. But commercial staples from Boeing, the 737-200 and 747-200, rank second and third on the list, with 2,910 and 1,664 fatalities respectively.

Commercial airline travel is still safer than driving. The 53 years of data on 47 modern aircraft showed 21,656 fatalities globally, that’s about half the automotive deaths that occur each year in the United States. On a per-mile basis air travel is even safer. Statistics from the US Department of Transportation show that from 2007 to 2016 there were 7,863 highway fatalities per trillion miles of travel in the US. There were only 11 fatalities per trillion miles of commercial flights in the US over the same period.

Based on our analysis, here’s how the Boeing 737 Max 8 looks in historical comparison to the most fatal aircraft models since 1966.

Update (12:39pm ET): Canada has grounded the 737 Max 8.

Update (4:17pm ET): As of 3:09pm ET, the US FAA has grounded the 737 Max 8.

Correction: Comparative fatality statistics used in an earlier version of this item were cited as per million passenger miles rather than per trillion passenger miles.