3. Boeing 747
When Boeing first considered building a plane that would carry 500 passengers, the board of directors was skeptical. People had gotten used to hearing of an air crash with one-hundred or so fatalities. So, the thinking was, if Boeing invested all its resources in a 500-passenger plane a crash could so traumatize the public that passengers would refuse to fly it. "No problem," the engineers said, "We are going to build an uncrashable airplane." And they almost did. The record shows about seventeen-million hours per accident, but two of those had nothing to do with the quality of the plane: the collision of two 747s on the runway in the Canary Islands. Due to misunderstanding communications from the tower, a KLM 747 took off when not cleared for takeoff, striking a Pan Am 747, destroying both planes.
Number in service: 838
5. Boeing 767
Slightly edging out the 757 and the 320, the 767 has fifteen-million hours per accident. It was, like the 757, first built in 1982 and has engineering so similar to the 757 that pilots who are qualified on one are qualified on the other.
Number in service: 867
7. Boeing 757
Were you impressed with the record of the 737 CFMI at one accident in five-million flight hours? Hold on to your hat! The 757 is double that. In fact, it is almost triple that with one accident in about fourteen-million hours of flying. First in service in 1982, this is what I call a third-generation airliner. It has the benefits of computerization of navigation and monitoring of the various systems on the plane, so that if the primary system goes out of normal parameters, the plane switches automatically to a standby system. In addition, there is a backup system and an emergency system if needed.
This is my favorite plane to fly as a pilot. Flown by American, Delta and United.
Number in service: 973
9. Boeing 737 CFMI
The second generation of 737s (-300, -400, -500) were built with the CMF engine starting in 1984. We are talking serious safety: five million hours of flying per accident.
Number in service 2,033
What does one accident in five million hours mean? Well, at five-hundred miles per hour, that means 2,500,000,000 miles. If you trade in your car every 100,000 miles, that means the number of miles you would rack up with 25,000 cars! As impressed as you are with your ability to drive, how confident would you be of going through 25,000 cars without an accident?
11. McDonnell-Douglas DC-10
First built in 1971, the DC-10 was the McDonnell-Douglas answer to Boeing's 747. Originally, McDonnell-Douglas decided to pass on building a jumbo jet, and promoted a stretched version of their DC-8. But when orders for the 747 took off, McDonnell-Douglas played catch-up, rushed the DC-10 into production. As a result, there were some spectacular crashes due to design problems, which gave the plane a bad reputation. But once the original design problems were fixed, the DC-10 flew with exceptional safety. With an overall record of one accident in three-million hours of flying, the DC-10 has had not had an accident in the past twenty years, except in developing countries.
12. McDonnell-Douglas MD-80
In a virtual tie with the Boeing 727, the MD-80 has produced 2.3 million hours per accident. It is still being flown by Delta and American.
First built in 1980 and the number still in service: 923
13. Boeing 727
Though first built in 1963, here we have a quantum leap in safety. Twice as safe as those in the four-way tie - and four times safer than the early 737- the Boeing 727 is good for two-million hours of flying per accident!
Number still in service (outside the U.S.): 412
15. Douglas DC-9
An American-build plane, and still another plane tied with the Tu-154 and Airbus 310 in terms of safety. First built in 1965.
Number in service: 315. Still being flown by Delta Airlines.
17. Tupelov Tu-154
Another Russian-built airliner, but one designed originally for airline, rather than military, use. With one crash per million hours of flying, we have a big jump in safety versus number 9. First built in 1971.
Number still in service: 236
19. Early 737-200 with JT8D turbo-fan engines
Early 737-200 with JT8D low by-pass turbo-fan engines. 737s built since are equipped with engines that produce far more power. Approximately one crash per 500,000 hours of flying. First built in 1967.
Number still flying: 517. The 737-100s, also first built in 1967, have been retired from service.