Flying is safer than ever.
You may still encounter air rage and sleepy controllers, but when it comes to accidents on the runway, airplane safety is at an all-time high. Last year’s accident rate was 0.61 percent—one for every 1.6 million flights.
Chalk those numbers up to improvements the FAA has made over the years. In 2000, U.S. airports recorded 67 serious runway incursions that could have easily led to injuries or fatalities. According to FAA spokesperson Tammy Jones, the total dropped to only six last year, while the number of serious incidents specifically involving commercial aircraft plummeted from 34 a decade ago to three in 2010.
Even so, several major U.S. airports continue to grapple with safety issues, and several medium-size airports still have downright shameful records. So where will you find America’s safest airports? We analyzed FAA data and gave each airport a score based on its safety record. Read on to discover which airport has made so much progress that it’s now the safest in America.
No. 10 Detroit Metro (DTW)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 31
Safety Innovations: ASDE-X airport surface detection equipment, which carefully monitors the position of all aircraft and vehicles on the runways, taxiways, and parking areas, is already installed at DTW. The airport is scheduled to have its Runway Status Lights system operational in 2014
No. 9 LaGuardia (LGA)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 17
Safety Innovations: The smallest of the three major airports in the New York metropolitan area has the best safety record. LGA’s ongoing runway rehabilitation program includes the addition of Touchdown Zone Lights (TDZ) to both runways
No. 8 Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 21
Safety Innovations: One of the nation’s oldest major airports launched a “MSP 2010” expansion program that included construction of a fourth runway, new airfield de-icing pads, and improved electronic aircraft guidance systems, as well as repaving of runways, taxiways, and aprons.
# 7 San Diego Lindbergh Field International (SAN)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 4
Safety Innovations: Skimming low over Balboa Park and downtown San Diego, the final approach to Lindbergh Field is about as white-knuckle as it gets at major U.S. airports. But this hair-raising landing belies the fact that Lindbergh Field is still very safe. It’s one of only four U.S. airports that already have their Runway Status Lights system deployed and undergoing operational evaluation.
#6 Orlando International (MCO)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 13
Safety Innovations: Like nearby Disney World, MCO has benefited from a surplus of cheap land in central Florida, allowing for aggressive expansion and parallel runways that greatly enhance safety. MCO is scheduled to have its new Runway Status Lights system deployed in August 2011, giving pilots real-time information on current and anticipated runway occupancy.
#5 Portland International (PDX)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 9
Safety Innovations: PDX is nearing the end of a three-year improvement program that includes the expansion of one runway, the complete reconstruction of a second runway, and new taxiways. It’s not only one of the safest but one of the most picturesque American airports, along the south bank of the Columbia River in the shadow of snowcapped Mount Hood.
#4 Pittsburgh International (PIT)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 6
Safety Innovations: A state-of-the-art snow- and ice-removal system makes Pittsburgh one of the safest airports in the world during severe winter weather. Among its innovations are front and rear de-icing teams, runway sensors that relay real-time snow and ice conditions, and direct radio communication between the snow-removal crews and the FAA control tower.
#3 George Bush Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 19
Safety Innovations: The airport master plan calls for the creation of a perimeter taxiway system that will allow arriving or departing aircraft to loop around active runway areas rather than crossing them. And it can’t come soon enough. By the end of 2011, IAH will be one of only four airports around the globe with direct flights to all six inhabited continents.
#2 Memphis International (MEM)
Score: 0.59 (rounded from .588)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 10
Safety Innovations: The FAA is building a state-of-the-art, $61.5 million control tower and an expanded terminal radar approach control at MEM. Memphis boasts an outstanding safety record, especially considering that it’s been the world’s busiest cargo airport for most of the last 20 years, and it shares runways with the Tennessee Air National Guard.
#1 Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
Runway Incidents (2006–2010): 4
Safety Innovations: Major enhancements have included a new underground transportation system and a third north-south runway. The airport’s safety record is nothing short of phenomenal. In the last three years (2008–2010), CVG has experienced just one runway incident of any kind, and it had no immediate safety implications.