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GA pilots are flying more safely, report shows

The downward trend continues for general aviation accidents. The number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours decreased from 7.19 in 1997 to an all-time low of 6.32 in 2006, while the fatal accident rate dropped 7.4 percent during the same time frame, according to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s just-released 2007 Joseph T. Nall Report .

The report provides an overview of the GA accident statistics, trends, and contributing factors from the previous year.

“Even with a slight uptick in the number of hours flown in 2006 as compared to 2005, pilots are flying fewer hours than they did five years ago,” said Bruce Landsberg, AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director. “But the accident rate shows pilots are flying safer.”

For example, from 2002 to 2006, the number of accidents declined by 10.8 percent, while the number of estimated flight hours decreased only 5.9 percent. The GA accident trend for 2006 also matches the long-term downward trend, with total accidents decreasing 8.3 percent and fatal accidents decreasing 6.5 percent from 2005.

“This trend information is more reliable than yearly snapshots,” Landsberg said. “In addition to seeing that the overall accident rate is decreasing, we’re also able to see which areas of flight tend to have the most accidents and then tailor our safety efforts.”

The report reveals that the long-term trend for weather-related accidents is increasing. VFR flight into instrument conditions continues to account for the majority of fatal weather accidents in single-engine aircraft.

“One possible explanation is that more cross-country flying is being undertaken in new, technologically advanced aircraft,” Landsberg writes in the report. “The negative trend in weather accidents also illustrates the difficulty of teaching judgment skills to a broad group of pilots flying under diverse circumstances.”

The foundation is working to educate pilots about weather-related accidents. Earlier this year the foundation and FAA mailed more than 180,000 CDs to instrument-rated pilots with information about avoiding thunderstorms. Two of the foundation’s online courses focus specifically on weather, “Weather Wise: Ceiling and Visibility” and “Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC".

Another trend is a decrease in maneuvering flight accidents, down from 33.1 percent of fatal accidents in 2005 to 25 percent in 2006. However, fatal descent and approach accidents increased from 10.3 percent to 19 percent.

“No matter what accident statistics you look at, pilot decision making continues to be the leading cause of all accidents,” Landsberg said. For the last several years, the foundation has provided free decision making DVDs to all new private pilots and for those just getting their instrument rating to help them to apply their new skills safely.

“We as the GA community have a lot of work to do to continue improving pilot safety,” Landsberg added, “and the Air Safety Foundation will do its part to educate pilots through free, informative, and entertaining safety courses, seminars, and materials.”

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