Non-commercial fixed-wing fatal accidents have reached new lows, a mark that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Air Safety Institute credits at least in part to a strong industry/government collaborative effort to boost general aviation safety. AOPA’s ASI released the 25th Joseph T. Nall Report this month, finding that for the first time in the report’s history, non-commercial fixed-wing fatal accidents fell below one per 100,000 flight hours. That rate occurred in 2013, which was the most recent complete set of accident data and findings that the ASI could track for the 25th edition of the Nall report.
The report looks at NTSB findings, aviation activity surveys and other final data sets and provides analysis not only on accident rates but also on safety trends. Early data on fatal accidents in 2014 point to a slight uptick in the rate, but the number of accidents that year is among the three lowest on record and well below the most recent 10-year average. Helicopters of all sizes and fixed-wing aircraft weighing up to 12,500 pounds were considered for the report.
“There is good reason to be optimistic as general aviation moves forward,” said ASI senior v-p George Perry. “I am encouraged by the achievements to date and the positive safety trends.”
Perry noted the numerous government/industry initiatives, pointing to the Part 23 rewrite, the updated FAA compliance philosophy and efforts to encourage installation of voluntary equipment. “I can’t recall a time where industry, government and associations have been so well aligned to help improve general aviation safety,” he said.
In 2013 there were 1,185 general aviation accidents, 205 of them fatals that took 363 lives. Fatal accidents were down 4 percent overall from the year before. Fatalities from non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft accidents were down 15 percent in 2013, but other general aviation aircraft categories showed slight increases.
Non-commercial fixed-wing flights accounted for about 73 percent of estimated general aviation accidents and 81 percent of all accidents and fatal accidents. In 2012, non-commercial fixed-wing flights represented 83 percent of all accidents and 88 percent of fatal accidents.
Flight time logged by non-commercial aircraft fell 7 percent in 2013, but the number of accidents dropped an “unprecedented” 18 percent. “The improvement seems to have been across the board rather than concentrated in one or two specific hazards,” according to the Nall report. “Nearly 75 percent were attributed to pilot-related causes and less than 15 percent to documented mechanical failures, almost exactly the same as the year before and the years preceding that.”
Landing accidents were the most common, while weather was cited in the largest number of fatal accidents, followed by low-altitude maneuvering.