A review of U.S.-registered business turbine airplane accidents from 2010 through 2016 by AIN reveals that during the seven-year period there were 406 total accidents—141 involving jets and 265 involving turboprops. By far the most numerous type of accident during the study period was the runway excursion, primarily on landing, though typically the damage in these mishaps was minor with no injuries. Still, investigators blamed many of these mishaps on the flight crew’s lack of proper approach procedures or failure to recognize and be prepared for likely circumstances that could result from, for example, a wet, icy or snowy runway.
The least number of fatalities occurred in 2010 for both jets and turboprops. In that year, there was one fatal business jet accident (Part 91) in which two people lost their lives. In 2010, twelve people were killed in four accidents involving turboprops, three under Part 91 and one under Part 135.
There have never been any fatal accidents involving Part 91K turbine airplanes. However, fractional jet operators suffered five nonfatal mishaps and fractional turboprops were in three nonfatal accidents during the study time frame.
In the seven-year period studied, the worst year for jet fatal accidents and fatalities was 2012, when 31 people died in six accidents. A strikingly similar tally followed in 2014, when 30 people died, also in six accidents. For turboprops, 2013 saw 45 deaths in 15 accidents. There was one fatal accident each for a public/government operation and a manufacturer’s test flight over the study period. The single fatal accident by a manufacturer in the study period happened on April 2, 2011, when a Gulfstream G650 crashed on takeoff for a planned test flight. The four occupants were killed.
Private versus Air Taxi
A closer examination of the data in the accompanying charts and tables tells the rest of the story: more accidents and fatalities befell turboprops than jets. In both the jet and turboprop segments, Part 91 operations had more accidents and deaths than Part 135 missions. Air-taxi operators incurred fatal accidents in two of the seven years for jets. However, for turboprops, air-taxi flights were involved in fatal accidents for all but one year. Part 91 jets and turboprops were involved in fatal accidents every year from 2010 through 2016, with the exception of 2011, when there were no Part 91 fatal jet accidents. The only jet accident in 2011 was the aforementioned G650.
The single Part 91 fatal accident in 2010 happened on January 5 when a Learjet 35 on a positioning flight in day VMC crashed while maneuvering in the traffic pattern for landing. The two pilots were killed. The NTSB concluded that control of the airplane was lost for undetermined reasons. Nevertheless, the Safety Board said the CVR showed multiple instances that when the airplane was below 10,000 feet msl the pilots were in discussions “not consistent with a sterile cockpit environment.” In addition, the Safety Board found that the pilots appear to have conducted checklists in a “generally informal manner.”
There were other fatal accidents in which the NTSB placed blame on the crew. The one during the study period that generated the most repercussions for the business aviation community was the May 31, 2014, crash of a Gulfstream IV that took the lives of all seven occupants. The aircraft, on a planned Part 91 flight, crashed while attempting to take off from Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. Among many causal factors cited by the Safety Board was the discovery that the pilots had a history of not using checklists or checking for full and free movement of the flight controls before takeoff. Serious accidents that involve not conforming to recommended procedures, such as in the aforementioned Learjet 35 and GIV examples, are not a rarity for either Part 91 or 135 flights, according to Safety Board reports.
Part 135 Jet Fatals
Ten people were killed in two Part 135 jet accidents during the study period. On Dec. 9, 2012, all seven people on an N-numbered Learjet 25 lost their lives when the twinjet, cruising at FL280 in Mexican airspace, suddenly entered a high-speed descent and crashed in mountainous terrain at 9,000 feet msl. The aircraft did not have a CVR, and although there was an FDR, investigators were unable to recover any information. The Mexican DGAC concluded that the there was a “loss of aircraft control for undetermined reasons.”
On Nov. 10, 2015, a Hawker 125 on an air-taxi flight stalled and crashed on approach to Akron, Ohio. The nine people aboard were killed. The NTSB faulted the pilots for “mismanagement of the approach and multiple deviations from company SOPs, which led to an unstabilized approach, a descent below MDA without visual contact with the runway environment, and an aerodynamic stall.”
AIN selected 2010 as the starting point for this study because that was the first full year that AIN began in-house researching of accident and incident data. Before then, AIN reported on statistics provided by a reliable but external source. By compiling data in house, AIN can more thoroughly analyze accident reports and publish even more accurate numbers.