Do GA accident rate statistics hide grimmer facts?

Last week in Fatal Cirrus accidents fall dramatically, we noted the fall in fatal Cirrus accidents while in a separate post (The fear of low-speed flying), we pointed out an article written by Rick Beach after he watched John King’s presentation at the recent SAFE symposium.

However, Paul Bertorelli, who also watched John King’s presentation where John pronounced that flying a GA airplane is "safe,” has written a thought provoking post for the AVWeb Insider where he argued that general aviation is in fact not safe – even with a fatal rate of 1.2/100,000 hours.

Peter began by noting that we suffer 250 to 300 fatal aviation accidents a year that result in 400 to 600 deaths and then he made the point that the number of hours flown is only an estimate and possibly a dodgy one at that as he thinks general aviation pilots actual fly less what is often assumed or calculated.

Paul then went through out some hard statistics and calculations:

On a per-registration basis, general aviation suffers 141 fatals per 100,000 registered vehicles compared to 7.5/100,000 for single-car fatal crashes. The per-hour rate tracks a worse ratio. For light GA aircraft, the fatal rate is 1.2/100,000 hours compared to .028/100,000 for single-car crashes, a 43-fold difference.* If all fatal traffic accidents are considered, the rate is .05/100,000 hours, a 24-fold difference.

He also pointed out:

If a GA trip is involved, the fatal risk is 240 times greater than the airline and nearly 25 times worse than cars if all traffic fatals are considered. If the automobile fatal accident rate were equivalent to GA’s fatal rate, we would kill more than 800,000 people a year and your car insurance would cost $25,000.

Paul concluded with several reasons for the “blasé” attitude toward fatal general aviation accidents. One reason he gave was that we just don’t care as its assumed that aviation is dangerous. Another reason he gave was that we are only willing to give pilots just enough training to get them competent and then not require them to do any serious recurring training due to the time and money this would costs – especially when the numbers of general aviation pilots continue to shrink. Finally, he noted that some will always believe that no matter how much training you give a pilot, some will still crash. Moreover, their money is needed to keep the general aviation industry alive.

Paul’s safety comments and his statistical comparisons or estimates are fairly provocative while his entire article is well worth reading by all general aviation pilots.


One Response to Do GA accident rate statistics hide grimmer facts?

  1. Brad May 17, 2011 at 12:00 #

    Except that there's no valid reason to throw out all but single-car crashes, since you're just as dead from multi-car ones. Do the converse if you want GA to look really safe: compare multi-aircraft accidents per GA hours flown to multi-car accidents per hours driven. Ta da! GA is thousands of times safer than driving. Paul's methodology is flawed in that respect.

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