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Flight hours up, accidents down in 2010

The combination of increased flight activity and fewer accidents added up to lower noncommercial accident rates in both airplanes and helicopters in 2010, according to a preliminary report issued May 16 by the Air Safety Institute. The accident rates of commercial GA flights—charter, crop-dusting, and external load operations conducted for pay—maintained the improvements seen over the past five years.

Publication of the Air Safety Institute’s annual Joseph T. Nall Report, which contains detailed analysis of a single year’s GA accidents, has been postponed while the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigations of 2010’s fatal accidents. In the meantime, the Air Safety Institute has compiled a concise statistical summary of the GA accident record of 2010 and a preliminary tally of accidents in 2011. The report is available for download.

There were 1,160 accidents on noncommercial fixed-wing flights in 2010, a decrease of 21 from 2009, and 19 fewer fatal accidents (214, down from 233). Unlike most recent years, when decreasing numbers of accidents resulted chiefly from reduced flight activity, FAA estimates indicate that the number of hours flown actually increased by 3 percent. The estimated rate of 6.30 accidents per 100,000 flight hours was 4.5 percent lower than the previous year’s estimate of 6.60, but remained in line with the average of the past 10 years. The estimated fatal accident rate decreased by more than 10 percent, from 1.30 to 1.16 per 100,000 hours, one of the lowest on record.

The accident rate on noncommercial helicopter flights improved dramatically; for the first time, helicopters had fewer accidents per hours flown than airplanes. Estimated flight activity increased more than 7 percent while the number of accidents dropped some 20 percent, down from 127 in 2009 to 99 in 2010. Twenty of these were fatal, up from 16 the year before. While the fatal accident rate of 1.07 per 100,000 hours was slightly higher than last year’s near-record low, the overall accident rate dropped to 5.29, the lowest seen in either airplanes or helicopters in more than 20 years.

Since 2005, helicopters flown commercially have averaged fewer than 3 accidents and 0.5 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours. That streak continued in 2010. Estimated rates of 2.28 accidents and 0.33 fatal accidents represented 35 and five events, respectively. More than two-thirds of all accidents (but only two of the fatal accidents) occurred on crop-dusting flights. Just four accidents occurred during external-load operations, but two of those were fatal.

Two-thirds of commercial fixed-wing accidents also occurred during aerial application. Three pilots (but no one else) were killed in these. 2010 was not as kind to Part 135 charter and cargo operations as 2009 had been; 12 people died in four separate accidents following a year with no fatalities. The combined accident rates for both types of commercial fixed-wing operations were almost unchanged from the year before.

Analysis of the causes of these accidents is now under way at the Air Safety Institute. In the meantime, more details on the aircraft involved, weather conditions, and pilot qualifications can be found in the preliminary report.

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