The Sept. 5, 2017, edition of Flight School Business reported a couple of encouraging trends: Training activity has finally begun to pick up, while instructional accident rates have improved even more than the overall rates on noncommercial flights in the same categories of aircraft (see “Safety: Tell your underwriter”).
CFIs also seem to be doing a better job of preparing their students to solo. The percentage of accidents on solo flights during primary training dropped 10 points in airplanes and helicopters alike. With fewer accidents overall, we can rule out the possibility that this really represents an increased risk on dual flights.
Other developments discussed in the twenty-sixth Joseph T. Nall Report have been less heartening. From 2002 through 2011, two-thirds of all fatal accidents in primary fixed-wing training happened on dual flights. In 2012 to 2016, it was closer to three-quarters (24 of 33, or 73 percent). This happened even though the fatality rate on student solo accidents edged up slightly (from 2.9 to 3.5 percent); fatalities in primary dual accidents increased a little more, from 10.8 to 12.1 percent.
This could merely represent a reduction in the frequency of less severe crashes, but the fact that primary training also accounted for a larger share of all fatal fixed-wing instructional accidents—44 percent, up from 37 percent in the earlier decade—suggests that’s not the case.
The composition of the accident record has remained remarkably stable. Goof-ups while attempting takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds continue to be a major headache for student pilots in airplanes, accounting for 80 percent of their solo accidents and half of those in dual instruction. Both figures are unchanged from the earlier period. They made up 43 percent of crashes during advanced dual, only a slight decline.
Also unchanged were the proportions attributed to either confirmed mechanical failures or unexplained engine stoppages: 20 percent in primary dual, 25 percent in advanced dual, and just 5 percent during student solos. Unlike the earlier decade, however, these were a significant cause of mortality during advanced instruction, causing more than a quarter of all fatal accidents. In the prior decade, they accounted for less than 10 percent.
Two things did change. The frequency of accidents during low-altitude maneuvering fell by more than two-thirds, from an average of more than nine per year in the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s earlier report to fewer than three. There were just 13 in the most recent five-year period. The improvement was concentrated in advanced instruction, which saw seven maneuvering accidents in five years, compared to 47 during the previous 10.
However, the frequency of midair collisions on training flights nearly doubled with 13 involving airplanes (plus one in a helicopter) in that five-year period; there were 15 in the decade before. Eight of the 13 occurred during advanced dual instruction, and of course, instrument training is known to be especially susceptible. About half of midairs and maneuvering accidents were fatal.
Helicopter accidents were almost equally divided between primary (59) and advanced instruction (61); however, only eight took place on student solos. Both represent slight shifts from the numbers previously reported, where 56 percent of all accidents happened during advanced instruction and a quarter of those in primary training were on solo flights. As before, helicopter accidents were more survivable than fixed-wing. Only seven (6 percent), were fatal, half the 12-percent lethality seen in airplanes.
Six of the seven fatal crashes occurred during primary training. The only one that occurred during a student solo was attributed to the loss of main rotor rpm in a Robinson R22 while the student was distracted looking for traffic. Two of the five on dual flights resulted from mechanical failures: a fractured main rotor blade spindle in an Enstrom 280FX and a sheared transmission drive shaft during a night flight in a Schweizer 269C. The student and instructor perished in both cases. Two more occurred during practice autorotations. The student survived a main rotor stall in an R22, while the instructor survived a high-speed impact after the engine of their Hughes 269C failed to regain power when the throttle was opened. Both survivors suffered significant injuries, but the dynamic rollover of an R22 that killed the CFI left his student unscathed.
The single fatal accident during advanced instruction was the midair collision between a Robinson R44 beginning a rental checkout and a Cirrus SR22 entering the traffic pattern at AOPA’s home field. Both men on the Cirrus survived after deploying its ballistic parachute, but the airplane’s wing severed the helicopter’s main rotor mast about 600 feet above the ground.