Quiz Question: Economics of Airport Runway Overruns

Quiz question for readers. First, however, a quote:

“In the past 25 years, at least one aircraft a month overran a runway somewhere in the world – one aircraft a month,” said Wendy Tadros, chair of the [Transport Canada Safety Board]. “As the trend continues, aircraft are bound to overrun Canadian runways.”

Assuming there are 28,537 commercial flights per day in the U.S. (source), and making appropriate assumptions to come up with the number of commercial flights per day worldwide, how much should Canadians be willing to spend to builder longer runways?


  1. 18 million commercial flights/year
    1.5 million commercial flights/month
    The number for total flights (including private and military) would probably be almost double that but I will assume she is just talking about commercial flights.
    So there is a one in 1.5 million chance of a runway overrun on a commercial flight.
    There are approximately 1.5 million commercial flights in Canada/year (I made some large assumptions. The data shows arriving and departing flights for each airport but most of these flights are probably in between these airports. It also only includes the top 50 airports in the country.)
    So chances are there will be a runway overrun once/year. Most of these are minor incidents without injuries.
    Let’s assume that once every 100 times it is horrible and 100 people die.
    How much should we spend to save 1 life/year?
    I think we could prevent a suicide each year by providing counselling services ($150/hour for 10 hours) or prevent a deadly motor vehicle accident by funding more road checks (probably $1500/hour)
    I’d say don’t bother extending the runway if it costs any more than $1500.
    – Steve

  2. Rafael Montoya says:

    Also, this is a cheaper way of avoiding the real reasons for these mishaps: untrained pilots, maintenance and ramp crews, tired staff at airport controls, etc.
    I have worked in airport operations and you can always find ways of improving the physical part, but, even with a crummy airport, you can do the job with any aircraft if you have the adecuate people running it.
    The advantage for the politician/public administrator with the additional building and/or buying of assets is not only a cheaper option (politically speaking) than hiring and retraining quality personnel, but in the event of an accident they can cover with “we have the best/longest/safest runways…(so somebody else is to blame)”.