The AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s just-released 2006 Joseph T. Nall Report shows a jump in the total accident rate for GA pilots in 2005 to 7.2 per 100,000 hours of flight time, up from 6.5 in 2004.
The rate for fatal accidents also increased slightly, rising to 1.4 per 100,000 hours, compared to 1.3 in 2004. This represents a 10.9% increase in the total accident rate and a 10.3% increase in the fatal accident rate, compared to 2004.
“While the sky certainly isn’t falling, the record that we chalked up in 2005 could stand some improvement,” said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
The report details a particular rise in fatal maneuvering accidents. There were 80 in 2005, compared to 52 in 2004. Half of these accidents involved wire strikes or collisions with trees, terrain or obstacles. In many cases, the issue wasn’t lack of skill, the report states, but rather the decision to fly close to the ground and perhaps maneuver aggressively.
Because pilot education is the best way to help reduce the number of GA accidents, the foundation will produce a new online course this year about maneuvering flight to combat an increase in the number of fatal maneuvering flight accidents, Landsberg noted.
The Nall Report analyzes GA accidents investigated by the NTSB in the previous year involving fixed-wing aircraft with a gross weight of 12,500 pounds or less. Accident data is analyzed by cause and category, type of operation, class of aircraft and other factors. This allows pilots to learn more about the accident profile of the particular class of aircraft they fly or the particular type of flying they do, the report notes.
The total number of GA accidents is relatively low, but remains significantly higher than the airlines, the report states, noting that this is due, in part, to more diverse levels of pilot experience and training, different aircraft capabilities and the more challenging operating environment of GA.
Last year’s accident rate is derived by comparing estimated GA hours flown— about 23,167,712, according to the FAA — and the accident numbers. Changes in the accident rate are magnified because of a decrease in estimated GA flight hours, which have dropped by 2.6 million in the last two years, according to the report.
Accidents in 2005 in which the pilot was deemed to be the “major cause” accounted for 74.9% of all accidents and 82.9% of fatal accidents. Mechanical or maintenance issues were attributed to 16.2% of all accidents and 7.5% of fatal accidents. A third category, designated Other/Unknown, includes accidents caused by pilot incapacitation, as well as accidents for which no cause could be determined. This category accounted for 8.9% of all accidents and 9.6% of fatal accidents last year.
Weather accounted for 4.5% of total accidents for single-engine, fixed-gear airplanes, the largest segment of GA planes. But it accounted for 14.5% of fatal accidents. Most of those — almost 82% — resulted from continued VFR flight into IMC.
Pilot hours are another critical element, with the report showing that pilots with less than 500 hours are most likely to be involved in an accident. The latest analysis shows that 34.9% of the total accidents and 30.7% of the fatal accidents occur within this time frame.
The report notes, however, that pilots with 500 hours or less are actually responsible for the vast majority of flying hours, so the statistics may not reflect the true safety record of these pilots, but rather their increased exposure.
Fuel management remains an easily preventable, but major source of accidents for GA pilots. In 2005, 68 accidents, including nine fatal ones, were a result of fuel exhaustion, while fuel starvation resulted in 35 accidents, including 10 fatal accidents. Fuel contamination resulted in 10 accidents, one fatal.
“An average of two accidents per week is not a record to be proud of, nor one easily explainable to an insurance company or the FAA,” the report states.
For more information or to download your own copy of the report, go to AOPA.org