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NTSB: Pilot Error Main Cause of Private Plane Crashes

Last week, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board held a two-day forum focused on ways to make non-commercial flying safer. While the number of accidents involved in commercial jetliners has fallen by approximately 85 percent since 2000, the number of private-pilot airplane crashes has increased by 20 percent in the same time frame, according to NTSB data.

Many may remember the Colgan Airplane crash that killed 50 people in February 2009. Private-plane crashes since that time have killed 1,500 people. According to research conducted jointly by industry leaders and the federal government, the vast majority of these crashes are caused by pilots failing to focus on the basics, such as checking weather reports prior to flight and making other mid-flight mistakes causing aircraft to lose lift or spin out of control.

Numerous advances have been made in commercial and corporate aviation safety that are just not reflected in general aviation, said the NTSB Chairman. General aviation pilots are simply not learning from the mistakes of other pilots so the same mistakes are made over and over again. Much of the technological advances in commercial and corporate aviation, along with improved training have eliminated many of the causes of crashes, including icing issues, mid-air collisions and wind-shear problems.

According to accident rate data, all general aviation included seven accidents per 100,000 flying hours between 2007 through 2010. In contrast, accidents involving privately owned or rented, small-engine aircraft included 12 per 100,000 flying hours during that same period. What is even more concerning is that the 25 percent increase in the number of fatalities in private-flight crashes has grown faster than the rate of accidents as a whole.

The head of safety for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said one of the biggest causes of aviation accidents is pilots losing control during flight. He went on to say that he didn't think an aircraft could crash unless a pilot has broken one or more regulations and if every pilot operated his or her aircraft according to private-pilot practical test standards we would have a pretty solid system.

Source: Bloomberg Business Week, "Deadly Private-Plane Crashes Prompt U.S. Call for Basics," Alan Levin, June 19, 2012

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