The just-released 2002 AOPA Air Safety Foundation Nall Report shows that general aviation suffered only 1,494 fixed-wing accidents during 2001, lower than any preceding year since recordkeeping began in 1938. The total includes 298 fatal accidents.
The 2002 Nall Report also contains surprising findings about takeoff and landing accidents, which in 2001 accounted for 58 percent of all pilot-related GA accidents. Among other things, it reveals that airline transport pilots suffer a higher proportion of takeoff and landing accidents than student pilots, relative to each group's percentage in the pilot population.
ASF's annual Nall Report is each year's detailed analysis of the previous year's GA accident information, focusing on fixed-wing aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. It is named for former National Transportation Safety Board member and GA advocate Joseph T. Nall, who died as a passenger in a charter airplane crash in Venezula in 1989.
"Safety educators, flight instructors, and pilots have long used the Nall Report to improve their own flying safety," said Bruce Landsberg, ASF executive director. "This year's report is even more valuable, with special ASF analyses providing insight beyond the raw numbers."
The preliminary Nall-reported 2001 accident rate for fixed-wing GA aircraft under 12,500 pounds is 6.56 for all GA accidents, and 1.22 for fatal GA accidents. (Minor revisions to accident numbers and rates routinely occur as the NTSB finalizes additional accident investigations, but the changes generally do not significantly affect the conclusions in the Nall Report.)
A special monthly trend analysis this year highlights the dramatic decrease in GA accidents in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It notes that GA was the last segment of aviation to be released after the forced grounding of all aviation immediately after the attacks and that some airports are still not back to normal pre-September 11 operations.
The Nall Report identifies maneuvering flight—which includes buzzing—as the phase of flight with the highest number of fatal accidents, accounting for 11.2 percent of all pilot-related GA accidents in 2001.
Maneuvering flight accidents were most likely to be fatal in single-engine retractable-gear aircraft. In 2001, 75 percent of maneuvering accidents in that aircraft class were fatal; for single-engine fixed-gear aircraft, the percentage of maneuvering accidents that were fatal was nearly 50 percent, and for multiengine aircraft, about 66 percent.
Later this year, ASF will introduce a major new safety initiative to educate pilots on the dangers of maneuvering flight. The new program will include an all-new nationwide tour of safety seminars.
Weather-related accidents, including continued VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), continued to have the highest probability of fatalities. "Any pilot who is tempted to scud-run should pay particular attention to this section of the Nall Report," said Landsberg. "The odds, if you crash, are awful."
This year's Nall Report breaks out the top areas for GA fatal accidents by aircraft class.
Not surprisingly, the phase of flight most often fatal in single-engine fixed-gear aircraft was maneuvering flight (including buzzing), accounting for 37.8 percent of all fatal accidents in that aircraft class. In single-engine retractable-gear aircraft, accidents involving weather topped the list, at 28.3 percent of all fatal accidents for that aircraft class. And for multiengine aircraft, accidents during takeoff and climb and accidents during descent and approach were most often fatal, at 23.3 percent each.
Although accounting for only about 3 percent of total GA mishaps, weather-related accidents in 2001 had even higher fatality rates than for maneuvering flight. Fatalities were recorded in 56.5 percent of weather-related accidents in single-engine fixed-gear aircraft and 89.5 percent of single-engine retractable-gear aircraft, while 100 percent of weather-related accidents involving multiengine aircraft were fatal.
For the first time ever, the Nall Report compared pilot experience and FAA pilot certificate levels to the accident rates and refuted a misconception that student pilots are more likely to have accidents than other pilots.
Overall, student pilots had only 7.7 percent of all GA accidents, despite representing 15.3 percent of the total pilot population. Pilots holding an FAA private pilot certificate, accounting for 40.7 percent of the total pilot population, were involved in 45.8 percent of all GA accidents. Commercial pilot certificate holders, 19.6 percent of the total pilot population, accounted for 32.4 percent of all GA accidents, while pilots with an airline transport pilot certificate, representing 21.7 percent of the pilot population, suffered 12.6 percent of all GA accidents.
Regardless of certificate level, experience had a significant impact on accidents. Pilots with fewer than 500 hours of total experience were involved in 34.9 percent of all GA accidents, and those with fewer than 500 hours "in type" accounted for 76.2 percent of all accidents, with 74.2 percent of those accidents fatal.
This year's Nall "special emphasis" section studied takeoff and landing accidents, which accounted for over half of all pilot-related accidents in 2001. Included in this year's special section is a comprehensive ASF study showing "loss of control" the most common reason for takeoff and landing accidents, causing just over 30 percent of such accidents.
Research also showed that the fatality rate in pilot-related takeoff accidents was 20.5 percent, but the fatality rate on landing—generally believed by the non-pilot public to be the most perilious—was just one percent. The second leading cause of landing accidents, after loss of control, was wind.
ASF's lead safety seminar during 2002 was "The Ups and Downs of Takeoffs and Landings," a presentation designed to help all pilots win passenger applause for consistently better takeoffs and landings.
The 2002 ASF Nall Report also includes a comparison of accident rates for homebuilt aircraft versus factory-built aircraft and found that the chances of a fatality in a homebuilt were considerably greater than in a factory-built. Historically, homebuilt aircraft were involved in about 16 percent of all fatal accidents.
Also examined were trends in midair collisions, ground injuries in off-airport accidents, and mishaps involving drugs and alcohol.
The Nall Report noted the continued minimal chance of pilot incapacitation, despite the often-voiced fears of spouses and other flying companions. In 2001, there were a total of four cases of in-flight pilot incapacitation, making the odds of a pilot becoming incapacitated on any one flight just one in several million. For worried flying companions, ASF continues to offer its well-known Pinch-Hitter® course, both in live seminars accompanying Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics and on video. The schedule for the live seminars is available online.
"Address the basics: Carry enough fuel, don't stall or fly close to the ground, remain VFR when not on an IFR flight plan, and polish your takeoff and landing skills," Landsberg said. "If pilots would remember these basics, GA accident numbers would drop significantly."
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation 2002 Nall Report is available online.
ASF was founded in 1950 specifically to provide safety research and education for general aviation pilots. Since its founding, the GA accident rate has declined by about 90 percent. It is funded largely through donations by individual pilots and companies interested in promoting general aviation safety.