General aviation marked a 20-year low in fatalities for 2012, with 432 lives lost. Slice that data another way, and the song remains, essentially, the same: There has been little change in the accident rates—a figure based on estimated hours flown, and imperfect estimates at that—in recent years.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Aug. 6 released preliminary data for 2012, a year that extended positive trends for airline and charter operations, while showing little change in general aviation.
The NTSB numbers show a slight decline in accidents per 100,000 flight hours (from 6.84 in 2011 down to 6.78 in 2012), though the federal safety agency’s statistics are drawn from forecast estimates rather than actual flight hours flown, according to analysts at the AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute. The fatal accident rate of 1.24 per 100,000 flight hours, based on the NTSB calculations, remained unchanged for the third straight year.
There has been little change in the numbers in more than a decade, though progress has been made since 1993, when 401 fatal GA accidents claimed 744 lives, the highest total in the past 20 years.
AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg said a change in federal policy and regulations could make a difference. While airline and charter operators have benefitted from improved technology, many, if not most GA pilots continue to rely on 50-year-old technology, with access to useful improvements blocked by costly and cumbersome certification requirements. Congress is now moving to force the issue, with legislation passed in the U.S. House and approved by a Senate committee in July that would force the FAA to revamp light aircraft certification rules by 2015.
“Imagine if we were still driving cars with 1960-style safety—that’s what’s going on in GA,” Landsberg said.
The Air Safety Institute continues to produce a wealth of free products designed to educate pilots, sharpen skills, and enable better decision-making. It is an effort without parallel in the transportation world: Tens of thousands of pilots have taken free online courses, as well as in-person seminars and clinics; in many cases these products can facilitate insurance benefits along with credit toward FAA pilot proficiency requirements.
Air Safety Institute staff members have created content in direct response to NTSB requests, such as a free video on passenger safety briefing, and participated other efforts including a two-day program on GA safety organized by the NTSB in 2012.
Landsberg said he would like to see more federal attention paid to improving the weather forecasting and pirep dissemination, noting that inaccurate and incomplete weather information available to GA pilots remains a “significant part of the problem.”