Loss of control is now the top "killer" airline accident category. It is the cause of five of the 15 serious commercial jet accidents so far this year, says the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF).
The revelation was made during its International Aviation Safety Seminar (IASS) in Honolulu this week. With 15 jet accidents occurring by 1 October, 2008 has not been a good year for airline safety and nine of those accidents involved fatalities.
FSF director of technical programmes Jim Burin says that the figures confirm loss of control has taken over from controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) as being the jet accident category that kills more crew and passengers than any other. This year's five loss of control accidents compare with four in the whole of the previous year. Independently, using global figures as well as detailed data from its own reporting systems, the UK Civil Aviation Authority reported to the IASS that loss of control tops its list of risks for catastrophic accidents.
Also in 2008 to 1 October there were 25 commercial turboprop aircraft accidents, 17 of them fatal, of which six have involved CFIT.
The trend toward jet loss of control accidents taking over as the "killer category" from CFIT has been emphasised by a gradual reduction in the number of CFIT accidents since terrain awareness warning systems (TAWS) became widespread. Only 5% of the world's commercial jet fleet is not TAWS-equipped, Burin points out, and no aircraft with the equipment has ever suffered a CFIT accident, although controlled flight into terrain still continues to destroy non-TAWS jets and turboprops.
Meanwhile, in the past decade the airlines, despite having managed to improve their safety performance in almost all other accident categories, have failed to reduce the numbers of loss of control events. FSF figures reveal the trend for such events is level.
Burin notes there are two kinds of loss of control accidents: those that the crew could have prevented if they had sufficient awareness of what was happening, and those caused by icing or technical factors that may not be recoverable. He cites the Spanair Boeing MD-80 accident at Madrid this year as an example of an unrecoverable loss of control accident: "If you take off with your flaps and slats up, the airplane is not going to fly."