January, February Accidents Surpass All of 1Q19

 - April 8, 2020, 5:30 AM

All but one of the reported 13 accidents of U.S.-registered business jets and turboprops in the first quarter of this year occurred in January and February—before the Covid-19 virus started grounding business aviation in March. Nevertheless, the accidents, fatalities, and incidents involving U.S.-registered turbine business airplanes in those two months exceeded the number of mishaps in all three months of the first quarter last year, according to preliminary data compiled by AIN.

Although both comparable periods had a single fatal accident, the two pilots and two passengers who died in the February 8 crash of a Cessna Citation 501 was double that from the two pilots who perished in the March 18, 2019 crash of an Israel Aircraft Industries Westwind 1124.

The NTSB reports the Citation broke up while climbing through 15,400 feet to 16,000 feet after its pilots reported “problems” with the autopilot and the left-side attitude indicator. The twinjet, whose rated pilot was flying from the right seat, was on a Part 91 personal flight in day IMC and had filed an IFR flight plan. This accident and last year’s Westwind crash are still under investigation.

While nonfatal accidents involving U.S.-registered turboprops increased from one in the first quarter of last year to five this past January and February, the number of fatal accidents declined. Data shows that the pilot and the two passengers died in the February 20 crash of a Beech King Air B200 trying to return to the departure airport. There were seven fatalities in three turboprop crashes in Q1 of last year.

After the King Air took off in IMC on a Part 91 IFR flight plan, the pilot told ATC that they encountered freezing drizzle and light rime icing on the climb from 6,400 feet to 8,000 feet, according the NTSB’s preliminary review. As the turboprop twin climbed through 11,600 feet, the pilot reported that they were having an issue with faulty deicing equipment and needed to return to the airport.

During the descent, ATC asked if there was an emergency. The pilot responded in the negative and stated that they blew a breaker when they encountered icing conditions and that it was not resetting. As the aircraft was nearing 5,000 feet, the controller instructed the pilot to turn to a heading of 310 degrees.

A few moments later, the controller asked the pilot if they were turning to the assigned heading; the pilot responded that they were having issues with faulty instruments. When the controller requested their altitude, the pilot said they were at 4,700 feet. The controller then instructed the pilot to maintain 5,000 feet. The pilot responded he was “pulling up,” after which there was no further communication with the pilot.

Non-U.S. Jets Up, T-props Down 

Eleven people died in two non-U.S.-registered business jet accidents in the first three months of this year compared to zero fatalities in the same period last year. On March 29, the two pilots and six passengers were killed when their chartered Westwind II crashed on takeoff from Manila-Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Philippines. The twinjet was reportedly on a medical evacuation/equipment flight to Tokyo.

On January 23, a Citation S/II operated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority crashed into mountains, killing all three people aboard. The twinjet departed George Airport at 10:40 a.m. local time on a flight calibration mission of navigational aids at the same airport. The last contact with the flight was about 10 minutes after takeoff.

A crash landing of a de Havilland Turbine Otter on March 12 was the only serious mishap of a non-N-numbered business turboprop in the first quarter; compared with two accidents (one fatal to two people) in the quarter a year ago.

The single-turboprop was performing pattern work at Fort Langley, British Columbia, Canada. During the second landing, the aircraft bounced and started an uncontrolled veer to the left and departed that side of the runway onto the adjacent ramp. The left wing tip contacted a parked trailer causing the aircraft to pivot left and hit a second trailer before coming to a stop. The aircraft was substantially damaged but there were no injuries to the two people aboard and no post-impact fire.

The severe interruption of business aircraft flying worldwide stemming from  ATC disruptions, government mandates, and general advisories caused by Covid-19 treatment and mitigation measures is likely to continue through the second quarter, resulting in a sharp decline in the number of accidents and incidents. This expected decrease will be particularly evident when contrasted with the unusually high number of accidents in the first half of last year.