Washington Report: GA safety: It depends on the viewpoint

 - May 19, 2008, 7:48 AM

Although the number of general aviation accidents last year was the lowest total since record keeping began in 1938, the NTSB noted that the accident rate increased slightly from 6.33 accidents per 100,000 flight hours in 2000 to 6.56 accidents last year.

General aviation accidents declined from 1,838 in 2000 to 1,721 last year, a drop of 6.4 percent. But GA was the only category of air transportation to report a hike in its accident rate, which the NTSB attributed to the fact that fewer hours were flown by general aviation aircraft last year than in the year before. Fatal accidents dropped from 343 to 321, also a 6.4-percent decrease from 2000. Based on the current flight-hour estimates, the fatal accident rate increased slightly from 1.18 to 1.22 accidents per 100,000 hr flown.

Unlike other categories of aviation, GA flight hours must be estimated by the FAA. The agency calculated that 26.2 million hours were flown last year, compared with 29.1 million in 2000. However, the flight-hour estimates are frequently readjusted by the FAA, which could alter the accident rates.

With the decrease in the number of accidents last year, the general aviation industry considers the safety figures to be positive. Bruce Landsberg, executive director of AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation (ASF), called the reduction “outstanding.” General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Ed Bolen described the more than 6-percent decrease as “gratifying,” and GAMA credited the FAA’s Safer Skies initiative and other safety programs as reasons for the improvement.

“The minor rate increase doesn’t indicate a change in the overall GA safety picture,” said Landsberg. “The safety improvement trend continues. We will continue to concentrate our safety education efforts in areas to reduce accidents even more, such as spatial disorientation, weather and midair collisions.” Midairs were down 68.4 percent from 19 in 2000 to just six last year, while fatal midairs were down 60 percent from 10 in 2000 to four last year.

For personal flying, according to the ASF, total accidents last year were down 69, from 1,156 to 1,087, a 6-percent improvement. But the number of fatal personal-flying accidents increased by two–222 vs 220 the previous year.

The ASF said an analysis of its databases, which are culled from NTSB accident reports, showed that while the total of instructional flying accidents rose slightly from 261 to 264 last year, fatal instructional accidents declined by almost 26 percent. There were 23 fatal flight-training accidents last year, compared with 31 the year before. The ASF annual accident report includes only Part 91 airplanes weighing less than 12,500 lb.

The NTSB said there was a decline in the scheduled U.S. airline accident rate because it did not include the four crashes of September 11 in the accident rate computation. For those the Board added a new table–air carrier occurrences involving illegal acts–to last year’s aviation statistics. The table outlines accidents caused by sabotage, suicide or terrorism from 1982 to 2001.

Last year there were 36 accidents on U.S. scheduled airlines, including the four crashes caused by the September 11 hijackers. The remaining 32 accidents last year equate to an accident rate of 0.317 per 100,000 departures. These numbers represent a decrease from 2000, when 51 accidents were reported for a rate of 0.463 accidents per 100,000 departures.

The 531 fatalities associated with crashes involving U.S. scheduled airliners last year is the highest total since 1977, when two Boeing 747s collided in the Canary Islands. Half of last year’s fatalities–265–occurred on September 11. Other than a ground worker struck by a spinning propeller at an airport in August, the remaining 265 fatalities occurred when American Airlines Flight 587 (an Airbus A300-600) crashed in New York on November 12.

Accident rates for both scheduled and non-scheduled Part 135 service decreased last year. The scheduled service rate declined from 1.965 accidents per 100,000 departures in 2000 to 1.407 last year. For unscheduled, on-demand air taxis, the rate decreased from 2.28 to 2.12 per 100,000 flight hours.