View Full Version : How many airplane flights, world-wide, daily?

Boyo Jim
01-04-2003, 11:48 PM
I was searching for answers to this GQ thread about water vs. land plane crash safety. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=154445) I came upon Airlinesafety.com (http://www.airsafetyonline.com/news/publish/) which on this page (http://www.airsafetyonline.com/safetycenter/isflyingsafe.shtml) claims Every day millions of planes take off from airports around the world and land, somewhere, without incident.

Somehow I doubt this, but I haven't found other sources.

I'm not even sure there are enough planes to do this, let alone pilots. How many fixed-wing planes are there in the world? How many pilots?

01-05-2003, 12:59 AM

It's late and I tried some searches, but in the interest of


I'll say that over 1 million flights/day is likely worldwide, but not "millions". In the US airline flights account for only about 15% of daily takeoffs and landings: the military accounts for about 10% and general aviation (everything else) the rest. United and American alone have almost 6,000 flights/day between them. Add in all the other major airlines, and then every other scheduled air carrier (all the way down to Comair, ASA and the smallest one-airplane taxi-service) and you can come up with a huge number of flights - I would say a conservative estimate would be 60,000 airline flights/day. Add to this 40,000 military flights/day and you have 100,000 flights per day. This is just one-quarter of the flights in the US per day. Of course the numbers vary - a sunny Saturday will find more doctors trying to kill themselves at Podunk airfield than will a cloudy Tuesday. In any case, figure on a good day 400,000 flights/day in the US.
Given that general aviation is almost nonexistent in the rest of the world, airline and military flights will make up the bulk of the rest of the flying. Still, I think it's easy to say that US doesn't account for HALF of the daily flights worldwide. Even if it did, that would still be 800,000 flights/day.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have made some assumptions based on personal experience. I have flown as an instructor at a pilot training base for the USAF, and at just one base we would fly over 300 sorties per day. Each sortie would involve somewhere between 5 and 10 takeoffs and landings, thus producing an average of 2100 takeoffs and landings every day at ONE pilot training base (the AF has three now). This is just one tiny part of the Air Force, which is one small part of the flying military. 40,000 military flights a day may be a low number (if you count Army helicopter flights it DEFINITELY is).

I have also flown for a major airline, and while the airlines only do one takeoff and landing per sortie, they fly MANY more sorties than the military.

Bottom line: a million flights a day is easily conceivable. Double that, and I don't know. Hopefully someone will come along with some hard numbers soon!

01-05-2003, 06:25 AM
Here's another bump for you >bump<

I don't think anyone really has hard numbers, but Pilot141's guesstimate sure sounds reasonable to me.

There are a whole lot of flyable fixed-wing aircraft in the world (there are some others that are museum pieces now). That you might be able to get a hard number on. I'm taking a WAG here, but I think there may be more pilots than airplanes in the world, if only because everywhere I go there seem to be 2 or 3 pilots per plane. But that's a very off-the-cuff observation with a very unscientific sample.

I don't have pilot figures for the world, but if I recall correctly there's about 450,000 pilots in the US. (I didn't bother to double-check that) We have the highest ratio of pilots to population, but I imagine that if you added up all the other pilots in the world it would not only match but exceed that number.

I think we have the airplanes and pilots to do it, then the question becomes... is there something to prompt "millions" of take-offs and landings in a single day? Well, on a nice Saturday or Sunday I've been known to do 5 or 6 myself just for the fun of it.

My opinion - it's possible to have "millions" of flights in a day, but I doubt it actually happens every day.

This reminds me of the question back in August of 2001 on these boards where someone asked if it was possible to land every airplane in North America, or would we run out of parking spaces? Unfortunately, we did get a definitive answer on that one, and yes, we did find a place to put them all, but it's certainly not an everyday occurance.

Richard Pearse
01-05-2003, 07:11 AM
Originally posted by pilot141

Given that general aviation is almost nonexistent in the rest of the world,

This is one of the most bizarre things I've heard. What ever gives you this idea?

01-05-2003, 07:43 AM
For starters, pre-USSR breakup there was no general aviation in the USSR - just military and passenger transport. Oh, wait, they probably had plenty of cargo flights, which are normally considered GA, but nothing like in the US where any private citizen with the money to pay for training, intelligence to pass the tests, and health to pass the physical can get a license. Don't know about China, but I can't ever recall hearing anything about Chinese GA. Those two territories alone - the former USSR and China - account for quite a large chunk of the world. There are other countries with just the military/passenger/cargo suite of flying available, which pretty much rules out the average Joe or Jane getting a license.

Europe is well known (among aviation circles) for being much more expensive to either get training or to pay for flight. So much so that it is quite common for Europeans to take an extended vacation in the US and spend 4-6 weeks getting a license or continued training. We have 2 to 6 of those at my home field at any given time and we're a dinky one-runway strip in the middle of the continent. There are people from outside the US who hold US issued pilot licenses and only fly when they're in the US (these folks are counted among US pilot numbers even though they live abroad and aren't US citizens)

Many countries also have much tighter physical requirements for pilots than the US does. The US includes deaf pilots, pilots who are amputees or paralyzed, or have one eye, or who are colorblind or wear glasses (some of the above may have to take an extra flight test to demonstrate that their disability does not affect their ability to fly the airplane, and that they know how to properly use adaptive equipment like hand controls for rudder pedals).

Australia and Canada, after the US, probably have the highest percentage of pilots in their population. Don't know about Mexico, but I've met a couple of Mexican pilots so they have some activity.

So... some countries outright forbid civil/private aviation, and others make it much more difficult to get a license through either regulations or cost. As a result, in most of the world the average citizen doesn't have access to personal flight. Saying it's "nonexistant" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's far less common outside of North America

Boyo Jim
01-05-2003, 08:09 AM
Your responses gave me the idea to look at the FAA, where I found no info of use. But I followed a link to the Department of Transportation, where I found this page on on-time/late/cancelled flights from September 2001 (a pdf file). (http://www.bts.gov/oai/atcr/0109/0109_carrier.pdf)

If this is an average month (which it wasn't because of 9/11, but look at days prior to 9/11) all combined US air carriers fly less than 20 thousand flights per day.

This other PDF file from the same site (http://www.bts.gov/oai/on_time_2001/pdf/annual_delays_1995_2001.pdf) gives a total number of flights by air carriers in 2001 as just under 6 million for the year. That works out to about 16.5k flights per day. Presumably these are scheduled passenger flights, not charters or freighters, etc.

This number is looking shakier and shakier.

01-05-2003, 01:23 PM
OK, let's look at this again.

On a typical day, for every 1 flight by a scheduled air carrier there's about 5-10 flights by general aviation.

So, if we have a day with, say, 15,000 schedule air carrier flights we may also have 75,000 GA flights, for about 90,000 flights in a single day.

If the weather is exceptionally fine, there might 100,000 GA flights to go with those 15,000 scheduled lines, for about 115,000 flights in a day.

Now add the military flights - training, cargo, mission, etc.

Now... were those 15, 000 scheduled flights just for North America (in which case we might hit 1,000,000 or more in a day) or world-wide?

The problem with statements like "millions of flights each day" is that weather has such a huge impact on flying. Today, for instance, in my area nothing other than scheduled airlines, cargo carriers and the military are flying, and even then are experiencing delays because the weather around Chicago is absolutely crappy. On a truly fine spring day, however, a turf strip in the middle of nowhere that usually sees 5 planes a week might see 50 in a day, paritcularly if someone is cooking a pancake breakfast next to the runway. There probably are days with over a million flights, but I don't believe it happens every day.

Richard Pearse
01-05-2003, 05:44 PM
Ok, I guess living in Australia and NZ where it seems that every man and his dog has a PPL I assumed that GA was common throughout the world. I knew that flying in Europe was expensive but I was under the impression that it still had healthy GA activity. The UK certainly seems to have a lot of GA but perhaps my experience here is distorting my world view.

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