FAA Worried About GA Safety Stats
December 5, 2012 - The federal government's fiscal year began on October 1, so that's the date when the FAA begins counting fatal accidents for the year. And GA's safety record is off to a terrible start.
In the first two months of the fiscal year - October and November - there were 55 fatal accidents in GA aircraft. In the first five days of December there were nine more fatal wrecks. No information is available as to the number of people killed in these accidents.
In only two years since 1997 have there been more fatal GA accidents in the first two months of the government year. The 55 fatal accidents this year are up from 44 in the first two months of last fiscal year, and that doesn't account for the nine fatals in the first few days of December.
All that is known for sure is the number of fatal accidents. It will take the NTSB about a year to investigate and assign a probable cause for each wreck. Even a preliminary NTSB report that outlines the basic facts known early in the investigation requires several days to complete and post on the NTSB website.
A check of the NTSB preliminary accident reports posted so far doesn't show an identifiable pattern to the fatal accidents of the past two months. Power loss, for example, was a factor in several fatal accidents including a Cessna Caravan at Wichita and a Piper PA-32 in Mississippi.
But other fatal accidents involved a student pilot on a second solo flight, and a Cessna 421 pressurized piston twin that crashed after the pilot made a routine check-in with controllers from cruise altitude.
In other words, almost every type of GA flying has been touched by these tragedies. Pilots of experimental airplanes didn't do better with 12 fatal accidents in the first two months of this fiscal year compared to nine the year before.
There is little reason to believe that the number of GA flying hours is substantially different than a year ago. Fuel prices and overall economic conditions - two significant drivers of GA flying activity - are not markedly changed in the past two months. And the fatal accidents didn't cluster around the Thanksgiving holiday, so there is little reason to believe that the pressure of holiday travel was a factor.
It is possible that the fatal accident total so early in the year is a statistical anomaly, but the trend is diverging so radically that it is essential that all GA pilots take a close look at their operations and make sure they are not assuming new or unnecessary risks.
The FAA safety experts are not yet calling for any specific action, or issuing alerts about risks in any phase of flight or type of aircraft flown. But the FAA did ask EAA to help get out the alert that the accident rate is heading very much the wrong way after years of improvement in overall GA safety.