Airport Runway Crashes Incidents

The two most critical moments during a flight are takeoff and landing. Even though the likelihood of a crash is very minimal, if there is an error during one of these moments, a deadly airport runway crash can occur.


Airport runway accidents can be very devastating, and victims can sustain severe injuries and even death. Air travel is governed by many rules and regulations that make aviation accident cases complex and complicated to litigate.

In a study conducted by Boeing Commercial Airplanes, data demonstrated that almost half of all aviation accidents happen during the final approach or landing, with 22% accounted for the former and 25% for the latter. Accidents during takeoff or initial climb accounted for 14% of half of all aviation accidents, with eight percent occurring during takeoff and six percent during climb.

Investigating an accident on the runway can take years and usually involves a full-scale investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Due to the time-intensive and complex nature of these accidents, it is fundamental that you count on the help of leading experts like our aviation attorneys at the Wilshire Law Firm. Our firm has successfully represented numerous victims of airplane accidents, including airport runway crashes. Contact us today if you or a loved one have been the victim of an airport accident and would like to receive a favorable settlement on your behalf.

Why are Airport Runway Crashes Common?

In the public eye, there is often a misperception regarding how airplane accidents occur. Many people believe that airplane accidents usually involve mid-air collisions or descending from thousands of feet after a mechanical malfunction. The truth, however, shows that most airplane accidents happen on a runway either during takeoff or landing.

Airport runway accidents are the most common of all aviation accidents. Even though there can be many factors that contribute to an airport runway crash, they often occur when:

  • Airplanes are the closest to the ground during takeoff and landing. As a result, there is minimal time for pilots to take proper action in case of an error.
  • A plane’s speed decreases during the takeoff and landing phases, which severely affects the plane’s ability to maneuver
  • Planes are close by each other during these times, increasing the probability of an accident.

What Causes an Airport Runway Crash?

Pilot Error: In airport runway accidents, pilot error is one of the most common contributing factors and can result from poor decision-making either from a lack of experience or workload fatigue and operational errors.

Air Traffic Controller Error: Air traffic controllers play a pivotal part in airports. They are responsible for directing numerous planes as they take off and land simultaneously. If an air traffic controller makes just one small mistake, the outcome can be a mid-air collision or runway incursion.

Mechanical Malfunction or Defective Aircraft Design: During takeoff and landing, a failure in one of the plane’s components can cause the aircraft to crash. For example, runway accidents often occur when the landing gear of an airplane does not deploy properly. In such cases, the plane must perform a belly landing and land without fully extended its landing gear.

Negligent Maintenance: According to data from 1994 to 2004, 42% of deadly airline accidents were caused by negligent or insufficient maintenance. When airplanes are not adequately maintained, mechanical failures are very likely to occur. It is estimated that around 12% of all aviation accidents happen because of negligent maintenance.

Adverse Weather Conditions: Weather changes can affect an airplane’s ability to take off and land properly. For example, a wet runway can cause a plane to overrun the airstrip.

Other Causes for Runway Accidents

Airport runway crashes can be classified into three different categories:

Runway Excursion: This refers to when an airplane overruns the landing strip of an airport. Runway Excursions occur during takeoff and landing and can be caused by inadequate runway conditions or improper takeoff/landing maneuvers.

In a study presented by the Flight Safety Foundation, it was found that about 96% of all runway accidents are the result of runway excursions, with 80% of deaths stemming from such events.

Runway Incursion: According to a study by the Flight Safety Foundation, runway incursions are the second most common type of runway accident. Runway incursions happen when airplanes collide with vehicles, a person, or another aircraft on the runway. Even though this type of runway accident is not the most common, it can be as fatal as any other aviation accident. When analyzing the five most deadly runway incursions that occurred between 1995 to 2007, a total of 129 people died. On March 27, 1977, the most lethal runway incursion in history was reported in the Canary Islands. Two Boeing 747s collided at the previously called Los Rodeos Airport, now Tenerife North Airport, resulting in the death of 583 people.

Runway Confusion: A runway confusion occurs when an airplane’s takeoff or landing happens on the wrong runway. A recent example of runway confusion occurred during the Singapore Airlines Flight 006 on October 31, 2000. While in the middle of a Typhoon, the airplane’s pilots failed to take off from a closed runway and crashed into some construction equipment. The accident killed a total of 83 people out of the 179 passengers on board.

Who is Liable During an Airport Runway Accident?

There are many contributing factors in a runway accident, which means that there can be many different responsible parties during these accidents. Listed below are some scenarios and their corresponding liable parties:

  • If a runway accident occurred because of pilot error, flight crew negligence, or improper aircraft maintenance, the airline and/or its staff be held liable.
  • If a runway crash occurred because of an air traffic controller error, the airline would not be held liable. In this case, the federal government would be responsible because air traffic controllers are Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees. An injured party would file a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
  •  If the incident happens due to mechanical failure or defective aircraft design, the airplane’s components or plane manufacturer company can file a product liability lawsuit.

What are my Legal Rights After a Runway Accident?

Airport runway accidents can be very daunting because of the complexities that surround these cases. Aside from being disastrous, they can happen in many ways, which means different parties can be held liable for the accident. It is imperative that you hire an aviation attorney quickly because oftentimes, many jurisdictions’ laws come into play, with shorter time deadlines allowed to make a claim. If you or a loved one have been victims of an airport runway accident, you should have an experienced aviation attorney to protect your rights and maximize compensation.

At Wilshire Law Firm, our aviation attorneys are leading experts in aviation accident law. They have successfully represented victims in all types of aviation accidents for years against the major airlines and airplane manufacturer companies. Contact us today for a free consultation or immediate assistance from our highly reputable aviation attorneys.