There are numerous examples of things going awry when it gets too big, such as the famous sinking of the Titanic or the Hindenburg disaster. I am making this a general question, but specifically, I would like to know if something went wrong requiring the aircraft to make an emergency landing, would it make a huge difference if I were on board an A380 compared to a Boeing 747? I am aware that the length of the runway is not a major concern, but I am not sure about other factors such as weight that may limit its options during an emergency landing. Of course, it would be good to have a canonical answer too.

As I am interested in the difference between A380 and Boeing 747, I found the following comparison from Wikipedia:

In the 1990s, aircraft manufacturers were planning to introduce larger planes than the Boeing 747. In a common effort of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, with manufacturers, airports and its member agencies, the "80-metre box" was created, the airport gates allowing planes up to 80 m (260 ft) wingspan and length to be accommodated.[185] Airbus designed the A380 according to these guidelines,[186][187] and to operate safely on Group V runways and taxiways with a 60 metre loadbearing width.[188] The U.S. FAA initially opposed this,[189][190] then in July 2007, the FAA and EASA agreed to let the A380 operate on 45 m runways without restrictions.[191] The A380-800 is approximately 30% larger in overall size than the 747-400.[192][193] Runway lighting and signage may need changes to provide clearance to the wings and avoid blast damage from the engines. Runways, runway shoulders and taxiway shoulders may be required to be stabilised to reduce the likelihood of foreign object damage caused to (or by) the outboard engines, which are more than 25 m (82 ft) from the centre line of the aircraft,[186][188][194] compared to 21 m (69 ft) for the 747-400,[195] and 747-8.[196] The A380's 20-wheel main landing gear

Airbus measured pavement loads using a 540-tonne (595 short tons) ballasted test rig, designed to replicate the landing gear of the A380. The rig was towed over a section of pavement at Airbus' facilities that had been instrumented with embedded load sensors.[197] It was determined that the pavement of most runways will not need to be reinforced despite the higher weight,[194] as it is distributed on more wheels than in other passenger aircraft with a total of 22 wheels.[198] The A380 undercarriage consists of four main landing gear legs and one noseleg (a similar layout to the 747), with the two inboard landing gear legs each supporting six wheels.[198]

Looks like some additional integration effort is needed for airports to handle A380 planes, but not as much as I thought it would that makes finding a suitable airport to land during an emergency problematic.

  • I would focus on airline rather than aircraft.
    – mouviciel
    Jan 7, 2014 at 10:23
  • It's not clear (to me at least) how size really was the main factor behind the two disasters you mention or why this would mean the largest thing of any kind is the only one at risk. Surely, to the extent that size really is a problem, all large jet liners would be expected to be riskier than smaller aircraft and the difference between the A380 and the 747 might not matter that much (see also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Giant_planes_comparison.svg).
    – Relaxed
    Jan 7, 2014 at 10:56

2 Answers 2


Simple answer no. There are some many factors in place that it is hard to limit that to only the size of the airplane.

If you compare the size of the titanic to the boats that are currently navigating our seas, the titanic is just a medium ship Titanic comparison to qm (Source: Wiki commons)

The cliche still holds, flying is the safest mode of transportation. The weakest link remains the human factor, not the size.


So let's say you have to make an emergency landing, as you describe.

37% of fatalities occur in the final phases of flight - the initial approach, final approach and the landing. (Cynics will claim it almost all happens upon 'landing').

It could also be that your take-off went badly and they're doing an emergency landing after that. So combining the two, 80% of crashes take place in the first 3 minutes after takeoff and the last 8 minutes before landing!

So obviously, this is a potentially dangerous time to be worried about an emergency. In the situation you describe, you're already presumably in trouble if an emergency landing is taking place (eg, are you on fire, out of fuel, bird damage?).

So does the model of plane matter? Yes. According to FAA crash investigations, larger planes absorb more energy upon impact, meaning you're subjected to less potentially deadly force, meaning more chance of surviving.

Maybe you're concerned about the 'safety' of each plane model. In that case, you probably want to avoid the Concorde with the highest fatal crash rate per million flights. Of course, it's not flying any more, but the Embraer Bandeirante certainly is, at the next highest rate. Of course it's important to realise that crashes happen so rarely that we don't have statistically significant sample sizes to accurately compare these.

In the end, there's far more you can do onboard the aircraft to increase your survival rate, than when you're on the ground choosing your aircraft/airline.

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    The Bandeirante (roughly, "Pioneer") is a 15-20 person light turboprop frequently used in rural Latin America and Africa, where conditions are poor anyway. Few of its crashes were the airplane's fault, and they stopped building the things in 1990 anyway. Jan 7, 2014 at 12:15
  • @jpatokal yeah as indicated on the site, it's not in production any more. It was just an example that statistically some airplanes differ, but as I point out, statistically it's not really accurate anyway. Aircraft maintenance, I imagine, plays more of a part than brand/model.
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 7, 2014 at 12:19
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    Sure, I agree with your point, just wanted to emphasize that comparing Concorde to Bandeirante is even more apples to oranges than (say) Boeing 777 vs Airbus A340. Jan 7, 2014 at 12:25
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    Thanks for the how to survive a plane crash tips. It is really very useful. Jan 7, 2014 at 13:51
  • Mark, you wrote "we don't have statistically significant sample sizes to accurately compare these." I think this is the most important part of your answer. Oct 2, 2014 at 19:59

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