The most noteworthy accident event in the first quarter was the string of fatal Beechcraft Premier I crashes over a period of approximately three weeks, from February 20 to March 17. All three crashes, which killed nine people, involved Part 91 operations and occurred in VMC during takeoff or landing. The two accidents in the U.S. accounted for the only fatalities by U.S.-registered business jets in the first quarter of this year. In the third accident, a Premier crashed in France, resulting in the only fatal accident involving a non-U.S.-registered private business jet in the first quarter. According to initial reports, only the crew of the March 17 U.S. accident communicated with ATC before the crash, declaring an emergency related to engine power loss and hydraulic failure. At press time the NTSB was investigating to determine if there is a common connection among the accidents.
Despite the Premier accidents, the U.S.-registered business jet fleet significantly improved its nonfatal accident record and cut in half the number of fatalities in the first quarter of this year compared with the first quarter of last year. According to preliminary data gathered by AIN, in the first quarter of this year seven people died in the two U.S. Premier accidents compared with 14 fatalities in three private business jet accidents in the first quarter of last year. Sources also reported no fatal accidents involving business jet charter flights in either period. Interestingly, one specific Learjet 45 being operated under Part 135 by the same company was involved in two serious occurrences in as many days. In the first instance, the aircraft experienced a horizontal stabilizer trim actuator failure but managed to land safely. Two days later, the same aircraft was damaged after hydroplaning off a runway while landing.
N-numbered business turboprops also experienced a significant reduction in nonfatal accidents in the same period, but had double-digit fatalities in the first quarter versus no fatalities in last year’s first quarter. Specifically, there were 15 fatalities in six crashes (five under Part 91 and one under Part 135). Not shown in the charts is the March 8 crash of an all-cargo Part 135 twin turboprop that resulted in two fatalities.
Accidents involving non-U.S.-registered jets increased quarter-over-quarter. From January through March this year, two accidents resulted in nine fatalities. As noted, one of those fatal mishaps involved a privately operated Premier in which two people were killed. The second involved a chartered, Congo-registered Falcon 50 that crashed in the Congo, killing seven people; three survived. There were zero crashes of non-N-numbered business jets in the same period last year. Among non-U.S.-registered turboprops, the total number of accidents for the two periods remained unchanged at six in this year’s first quarter, but four crashes took the lives of 27 people in the first three months of this year compared with 12 people killed in three crashes in last year’s first quarter. None of the fatal turboprop crashes in the two periods happened during private operations.
AIN’s tables show “incidents” as well as “accidents” because the FAA and NTSB draw fine distinctions between the two events, the agencies are inconsistent, and the status of the occurrence may change. For example, runway overruns, retracted landing gear and gear collapse mishaps typically are listed as incidents by the FAA and not tabulated at all by the NTSB. However, if such an occurrence causes substantial damage or serious injury, the Safety Board records it as an accident. Other happenings, if they don’t result in serious damage or injury, are usually listed as incidents. They include engine shutdowns, flameouts, animal and lightning strikes, window separations, doors opening, blown tires, system malfunctions, loss of control, parts departing an airplane and turbulence. Additionally, depending on what is found during the ensuing investigation, events initially classified as incidents are sometimes dropped from safety databases entirely if investigators consider them inconsequential.