General aviation’s energetic efforts to reduce fatal aircraft accidents continued to produce encouraging results in 2015, and the overall accident rate per 100,000 flight hours also declined even as total flight hours increased, according to the Twenty-seventh Joseph T. Nall Report, released by the AOPA Air Safety Institute.
The fatal accident rate fell below one fatal event per 100,000 hours in a year during which there were 1,173 total accidents, of which 221 were fatal, with 375 total fatalities, the report noted. The fatal accident rate declined to 0.84 per 100,000 hours for the year in which the FAA estimated flight time of about 23.98 million flight hours—a 3.6-percent increase over 2014. The decline in fatal accidents reversed a slight uptick in 2014 to 1.19 per 100,000 hours.
Noting that the increased flight hours likely were the reason total accidents increase by 10 from 2014 to 2015, the report was highlighted by data that appeared to confirm that the general aviation industry’s extensive outreach on safety was making its mark.
“While the number of total accidents increased from 2014 to 2015, the number of fatal accidents saw a 4-percent decrease, down from 229 in 2014 to 221 in 2015,” it said. “This decrease in GA fatal accidents can be attributed to numerous industry initiatives designed to reduce those accidents by one percent every year from 2008 to 2018. Meanwhile, the safety community is working to reduce accidents throughout all of GA.”
The Nall Report analyzes data from the most recent year for which at least 80 percent of accidents have had the probable cause determined. The data for 2015 include qualifying accidents for which the National Transportation Safety Board had determined more than 94 percent of probable causes. The remaining accidents were categorized based on preliminary information.
The rate of accidents and fatal accidents, not totals of the accident types, is used in data analysis because total flight activity nationwide can vary substantially from year to year. Flight activity is estimated based on the FAA’s annual General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey, which tabulates aircraft activity by category and class, and purpose of flight, as well as other characteristics.
The 2015 data on accident causes confirmed that the industry’s emphasis on training is correctly focused, revealing that pilot-related accident causes stubbornly remain the major causes of non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft accidents—at the root of roughly 74 percent of total accidents and fatal accidents. However, the total of 714 pilot-related accidents reached its lowest level in 10 years, after spiking in 2014.
Mechanical-related accidents accounted for about 16 percent of pilot-related accidents, and 8 percent of fatal accidents. Other and unknown causes accounted for 10 percent of accidents and 17 percent of fatal accidents.
“While these numbers follow a long trend of data and appear consistent year to year, progress is being made to reduce the types of pilot- and mechanical related accidents,” the report notes, adding that over the prior 10 years, “we can see a general downward trend from 2012 onward.”
Still, McSpadden wrote, a fatality is one too many, and he urged all general aviation stakeholders to guard against complacency and work to find new ways to improve “knowledge, training, proficiency, equipment, and culture."
The Air Safety Institute also released the 2016-2017 GA Accident Scorecard, a brief statistical summary that supplements the Nall Report’s detailed examination of 2015 data. It noted that for the third consecutive year, the overall GA fatal accident rate declined. “Initial data from 2017 indicates that 2017 will reveal a fourth straight year as well,” it said.
The Air Safety Institute, funded by donations to the AOPA Foundation, provides free educational resources and supports initiatives that improve general aviation safety and grow the pilot population including award-winning online courses, in-person seminars, flight instructor renewal courses, and accident analysis—all created with the goal of helping all pilots fly more safely.
The Nall Report honors the memory of Joe Nall, an NTSB member who died as a passenger in an airplane accident in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1989.