The new edition of the Joseph T. Nall Report, the most comprehensive review of general aviation (GA) safety published by the Air Safety Institute (formerly the AOPA Air Safety Foundation), is now available online. It contains some surprisingly good news about commercial GA operations, but raises significant concerns in other areas, especially with homebuilts.
“The Nall Report is, first and foremost, a teaching tool,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of ASI’s parent organization, the AOPA Foundation. “Those who choose to be safe by learning from others’ mistakes and avoiding risky flight operations have an above-average safety record. It’s perfectly logical. GA flying is as safe as the pilot chooses to make it and there can be a wide continuum.”
Anthony Brickhouse, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., uses the Nall Report in his classroom and agrees it’s a useful teaching tool. “The report is written in a manner that is beneficial to pilots, as well as non-pilots. I use it in both graduate and undergraduate courses in aircraft accident investigation.”
The current Nall Report is based on 2009 accident data – the last year for which enough accident data are available to be statistically valid and give a complete safety picture.
Commercial Operations Show Marked Improvement
Commercial GA operations – those conducted for compensation – showed a marked improvement is safety numbers. The number of accidents on commercial fixed-wing (non-helicopter) flights decreased by one-third from 2008, and the two fatal accidents – both agricultural applications, or cropdusting, flights – represent an 88% decrease from the previous year. No fatal accidents occurred on fixed-wing charter or cargo flights.
The commercial helicopter accident rate increased slightly from 2008, but is still markedly better than it was as recently as eight years ago. The overall rate of commercial helicopter accidents has decreased 71% since 2003, from 8.2 accidents per 100,000 flight hours to 2.38. The fatal accident rate has been reduced by 85% (from 2.14 to 0.32) over the same period. There were four fatal accidents on commercial helicopter flights in 2009, resulting in 16 deaths, which is in the middle of the range for the preceding decade. Fourteen of the 16 fatalities were the result of only two accidents; eight died when a helicopter transporting workers to an oil rig crashed in the Gulf of Mexico; six died in the mid-air collision of a sightseeing helicopter and private single-engine fixed-wing aircraft over the Hudson River near Manhattan.
Areas of Concern Remain
Accidents due to mechanical causes happened at a statistically significantly higher rate in 2009, accounting for a record-high 17% of all non-commercial fixed-wing accidents.
Amateur-built aircraft continued to have significantly higher rates of both fatal and non-fatal accidents than comparable type-certificated aircraft, suffering particularly from greater numbers of mechanical failures and unexplained losses of engine power. More than half the fatal mechanical accidents occurred in amateur-built airplanes.
Personal flights accounted for well under half of all non-commercial fixed-wing flight time but had more than three-quarters of all accidents and nearly 85% of fatal accidents. Not surprisingly, nearly all (94%) of the accidents involving private pilots were on personal flights, but a surprisingly high number of the accidents involving commercial and airline transport pilots were on personal flights: 60% of all accidents involving commercial pilots and 67% of those suffered by ATPs.
The analysis from the Nall Report helps identify safety trends – good or bad – and training opportunities where the Air Safety Institute can focus its efforts. It is available online. Hard copies are available by sending an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Air Safety Institute (ASI), a division of the AOPA Foundation, is the world’s largest non-profit general aviation safety organization. Originally known as the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, it was founded in 1950 solely to help general aviation pilots improve flight safety. ASI produces live seminars, webinars, online interactive courses, videos, written Safety Advisors and other aviation safety materials for free distribution to all general aviation pilots.