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Nall Report: GA fatal accidents continue to decline

The general aviation fatal accident rate for 2016 continued the previous year's decline even as total hours flown marked three years of steady growth, according to the Twenty-eighth Joseph T. Nall Report released October 11 by the AOPA Air Safety Institute.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The 1,214 total accidents for the year rose from the previous annual figure of 1,173, while flight hours grew to 24.64 million from the previous year’s estimate of 23.98 million hours flown.

Significantly, the 195 fatal accidents in 2016 were down from 221 in 2015, an 11.7-percent decrease. Preliminary figures for 2017 suggest another annual decline.

Once again, the fatal-accident reduction for GA appeared to lend support to the effectiveness of numerous industry initiatives whose goal is to reduce those mishaps. As measured by the decline in fatal crashes, the results suggest that 2016 was one of the safest years for general aviation on record, said AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden.

“These numbers continue to demonstrate historic performance in aviation safety,” he said.

The Nall Report analyzes data from the most recent year for which probable causes have been determined for at least 80 percent of accidents. It covers airplanes with maximum rated gross takeoff weights of 12,500 pounds or less and helicopters of all sizes, accounting for 99 percent of GA flight activity. Flight time of the GA fleet is estimated using the FAA’s annual General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey, which breaks down aircraft activity by category and class, and purpose of flight, among other characteristics. Excluded from the analysis are gliders, weight-shift control aircraft, powered parachutes, gyrocopters, and lighter-than-air crafts of all types.

In fixed-wing noncommercial operations, the rates of both fatal and total pilot-related accidents declined, and accidents attributed to weather declined sharply. Still, pilot-related accident causes continued as a stubbornly significant factor in noncommercial fixed-wing aircraft accidents, at 775 accidents, although the 72.9 percent rate indicated a decline from 2015’s roughly 74 percent. Of the 1,036 accidents in the fixed-wing non-commercial category, 185 (17.9 percent) were found to be mechanical in nature. Mechanical causes were noted in 16 percent of the category’s accidents in 2015.

One of the Nall Report’s informative graphs dramatically portrays the sharp decline registered in the weather-accident trend, which has had its ups and downs between 2007 and 2015. In 2016, however, weather accidents—a topic of major emphasis in the industry’s safety awareness campaign—fell off sharply year-over-year from 39 total accidents to a 10-year low of 23, and from 30 fatal weather accidents to 12. As usual, most were attributable to VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions.

In other safety categories:

  • There were 64 total commercial fixed-wing GA accidents, of which 19 were fatal, marking a decrease in total accidents but a 10-year high in the fatal category.
  • The 40 accidents that occurred during Part 137 agricultural aircraft operations were the most in a commercial fixed-wing category, with maneuvering implicated in half the mishaps. Thirteen Part 137 accidents were fatal.
  • The 79 noncommercial GA helicopter accident total of 2016 established a 10-year low. The 17.7-percent fatal-accident rate (14 accidents) increased slightly from 2015.
  • There were 35 commercial helicopter accidents, of which three were fatal. The fatal accidents and their rate marked the lowest in 10 years, according to the report.

Report gets new format

The Twenty-eighth Nall Report introduces a new all-digital, web-based interactive format. In an effort to modernize content, the Nall Report features six navigation buttons at the bottom of the introduction page, each taking the reader to the designated section. For example, the Non-commercial Fixed Wing button takes users to that section of the report, which features drop-down accordion buttons that expand on significant categories. The modernized layout allows users to easily locate their areas of interest and quickly search for information.

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 Joseph T. Nall, an NTSB member who died as a passenger in an airplane accident in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1989.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Accident

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