General aviation (GA) is all flight activity of every kind except that done by the uniformed armed services and scheduled airlines. In addition to personal and recreational flying, it includes public-benefit missions such as law enforcement and fire suppression, flight instruction, freight hauling, passenger charters, crop-dusting, and other types of aerial work that range from news reporting to helicopter sling loads.
Similar to its predecessors, the 28th Nall Report analyzes general aviation accidents in United States national airspace and on flights departing from or returning to the U.S. or its territories or possessions. The report covers airplanes with maximum rated gross takeoff weights of 12,500 pound or less and helicopters of all sizes. Collectively, these types of aircraft account for 99 percent of GA flight activity. Other categories are excluded, including gliders, weight-shift control aircraft, powered parachutes, gyrocopters, and lighter-than-air crafts of all types.
Due to the nature of accident investigation, specifically fatal accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requires substantial time and resources to investigate accidents. The Air Safety Institute’s (ASI) Nall report covers the most recent year for which probable cause has been determined in at least 80 percent of accidents.
The total amount of accidents nationwide can vary substantially from year to year. For that reason, the most informative measure is usually not the number of accidents but the accident rate, commonly expressed as the number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours. GA flight time 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.
The 2016 total accident count was 1,214; 195 of those were fatal accidents, resulting in 346 fatalities. While the number of total accidents increased from 2015 to 2016, the number of fatal accidents declined by 11 percent, down from 221 in 2015 to 195 in 2016.
While some areas are not improving as quickly as others, the overall fatal accident trend shows a large reduction and simultaneously an increase in GA activity (total flight hours flown). The FAA estimated 2016 flight time at 24.64 million flight hours, compared to 23.98 million flight hours in 2015.
The GA Scorecard provides a broad view of GA safety performance and trends. The news across GA is encouraging, indeed: For the third straight year, the overall GA fatal accident rate declined. Initial data from 2017 indicates that 2017 will reveal a fourth straight year as well.