Airline safety: How often are there ‘near-misses’ in Canada?

With increased air traffic, how safe are our skies?.
With increased air traffic, how safe are our skies?. Nicole Mortillaro

TORONTO – The reported near-miss of two planes in Houston on May 9 may be jarring, but it isn’t something new.

In fact, there have been three other widely publicized near-misses over the past few weeks: one in Newark, N.J. and another at New York’s JFK International Airport. The third, a near mid-air collision, occurred on April 25. Kevin Townsend wrote an account of his terrifying experience aboard the 757 heading from Hawaii to California entitled, “Two Weeks Ago, I Almost Died in the Deadliest Plane Crash Ever”.

But how often do these types of incidents happen?

READ MORE: Infographic–Airline accidents in the past 50 years

According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, from 2004 to 2012, there have been 1,478 “risk of collision/loss of separation” incidents across Canada. That’s the agency’s way of saying two planes came very close to one another.

Story continues below advertisement


The statistics encompass all occurrences in Canada involving a foreign or Canadian registered aircraft or outside of Canada, involving a Canadian registered aircraft. That also includes helicopters, gliders, hang gliders and even balloons and dirigibles. During the same period, there were 115 collisions and 635 fatalities. So far, for 2014, including both air and ground, there have been 26 incidents.

That statistic may also seem disturbing but, in an email to Global News, NAV Canada, said that in 2012 there were more than 6.2 million aircraft movements (with NAV Canada air traffic control towers and service stations). As NAV Canada does not cover the smaller airports, that means that there were more than that. NAV Canada is a private company that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation service.

In the United States, there were 935 pilot-reported near midair collisions from 2004 to 2012, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While any chance of a collision is a terrifying thought, compare that with the 758 reported in 1985, and it’s clear that airline safety is much-improved, considering the incredible increase in air traffic since then.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2013, approximately 743,100,000 passengers flew across the United States.

Another problem, however, are runway incursions. This occurs when planes move between runways or taxiways and come dangerously close to one another.

From 2001 to 2009, there were 4,140 runway incursions in Canada, according to the TSB. The agency put runway incursions on its “Watchlist” in 2009 in order to try to reduce the number of incidents. However, disturbingly, the incidents continue: in 2010, there were 351 and another 446 in 2011.

WATCH: Transportation Safety Board–Risk of collisions on runways