The AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute has released the twenty-second edition of the Joseph T. Nall Report , the most comprehensive review of general aviation safety.
The report, available online, is based on 2010 accident data—the last year for which enough accident data are available to be statistically valid and give a complete safety picture.
By FAA estimates, in 2010 flight activity in all four segments of GA increased from 2009 levels, according to the report. Noncommercial fixed-wing activity rebounded 3 percent from the record lows of the year before; commercial fixed-wing and noncommercial helicopter flight time were up 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, while the most dramatic increase was in commercial helicopter flight, which jumped 21 percent.
GA accident rates in 2010 showed little change from recent years. “A 23% reduction in the rate of non-commercial helicopter accidents was not accompanied by any improvement in their fatal accident rate,” according to the report. “Slight declines in non-commercial fixed-wing rates only brought them closer to the 10-year moving averages, while commercial accident rates, both fixed-wing and helicopter, remained almost unchanged.”
While the number of fatal accidents increased to 20 from the record low of 16 the year before, both total and fatal accident rates were still lower than the corresponding fixed-wing rates for the first time, according to the report.
“Twenty-one fewer non-commercial fixed-wing accidents than in 2009 (including 19 fewer fatal accidents) combined with a slight increase in estimated hours flown resulted in slight reductions of both overall and fatal accident rates, however, the resulting figures of 6.30 accidents and 1.16 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours were almost exactly in line with the 10-year averages,” it noted. “The increases in the number of accidents on commercial flights, both fixed-wing and helicopter, were proportionately smaller than the increases in estimated flight time, though a slightly larger share were fatal. Changes in both overall and fatal accident rates were negligible.”
“On the positive side, the accident rate among amateur-built and experimental light sport aircraft showed its first real improvement in at least six years. The accident rate for traditional homebuilts dropped 9%, and the fatal accident rate was down 28% from 2009,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Foundation. “Mechanical problems continue to account for disproportionate numbers of accidents in these aircraft, and a recent National Transportation Safety Board study confirms the elevated risk during the flight-test period.”
After decreasing for five straight years, the number of fuel management accidents on noncommercial, fixed-wing flights increased for two years in a row even as the total number of accidents has decreased, said the report. “There were almost 20% more fuel-management accidents in 2010 than in 2008, and the proportion of fatal accidents blamed on fuel mismanagement increased by more than 40%, from 3.6% to 5.1%.”
Mechanical failures caused about 15% of fixed-wing accidents, including about 10% of fatal accidents, said the report. Fewer landing accidents occurred on student solos than at any time in the recent past, falling more than 40%, it added.
“There is always the discussion about how to teach decision-making and help people make the right choice. The vagaries of human nature make this a really difficult problem to hand to flight schools and universities," said Landsberg. “The airlines depend on a system to avoid high risk where one person is never allowed to make a decision in a vacuum. But this is the essence of personal GA flight, especially among private owners.”