Accident figures for 2016 show that business aviation safety performance is gradually improving, but a glance at the nature of the accidents themselves raises questions about underlying standards in the industry.

Meanwhile, the European Aviation Safety Agency has just mandated commercial operations in bad weather by single-engine turbine-powered aircraft – which were previously banned in Europe – meaning business aviation users in the continent have a new option at the lower-cost end of the sector. The safety issues associated with this are also examined here.

Accident rates were down in 2016, and the numbers of fatal accidents and fatalities were below the long-term trend. In fact, fatal accident numbers and fatality rates for both business jets and turboprops are improving steadily, and 2016 saw markedly fewer fatal accidents year-on-year, but mainly because 2015 was not good, and 2014 was notably poor.

Taking the long view, Paul Hayes, director of air safety and insurance at Flight Ascend Consultancy, warns: “Safety improvements, in the longer term, are doing little more than keeping up with the growth in the fleet. On average, there has been no real reduction in the frequency of fatal accidents suffered by these classes of aircraft in the last 20 years, or in the numbers of passengers and crew killed.” He is talking about the length of time between fatal accidents, which remains about the same when the accident rate reduces but the fleet grows, and this frequency is a driver of how safe the industry is perceived to be by potential users.

Business jets, however, did particularly well last year. In 2016, the fatal accident rate for business jets was about one per 5,000 aircraft in service, an improvement on the 2015 figure of one per 2,500 aircraft and very much better than the rate of one per 1,430 aircraft in 2014. Hayes points out that last year’s result for jets, together with a similar figure in 2011, are the best results for the class in more than 40 years.

For a longer-term perspective, a comparison between the decades before and after the millennium year is revealing: the business jet fatal accident rate for the decade beginning in 2000 was one per 1,600 aircraft, but for the decade beginning in 1990 it was one per 900 aircraft. That performance improvement mirrors experience in the airline world. The reason for the improvement cannot actually be proven, but industry experts all agree that technology, from engines to cockpits and smart avionics, has a lot to do with it.

Business turboprops also improved in 2016, albeit less markedly than jets, with a fatal accident rate of about one per 1,110 aircraft, compared with one per 1,000 aircraft in 2015 and one per 830 in 2014. Those figures are all better than the annual average for the first decade of the 2000s, which was about one per 525 aircraft, and for the 1990s, at one per 430 aircraft.

Although the accident rates for both business jets and turboprops is gradually improving, the fatal accident rate for business jets continues to be far better than that for turboprops. In round numbers, the fatal accident rate for business jets is now about three to four times better.

As for the simple number of crashes last year, business jets suffered four fatal accidents, three less than in 2015 and eight less than in 2014 when jets suffered 12 such accidents. While the 2014 result was the worst for any year since the first business jets entered service in the 1960s, the following year might be described as “more or less average” and 2016 was much better than average. However – and despite 2016’s good result – the long-term trend in simple annual fatal accident numbers involving this class of aircraft has shown little improvement over some 40 years because of fleet growth.

Fatal accidents: business jets and turboprops

Business turboprops suffered nine fatal accidents in 2016, one less than in 2015 when there were 10, and it was the best year on this basis since 2010 when there were only seven fatal accidents. The 2016 result brings the annual average number of fatal accidents for the current decade, so far, down to 11.9. The average for the previous decade was 15.6, and for the 1990s it was 16.7.

For those business travellers who worry about accident survivability, last year 14 passengers and crew died in the four fatal accidents suffered by business jets, giving a simple average of 3.5 fatalities per fatal accident. This is compared with the 33 passengers and crew who died in the seven fatal accidents in 2015, and the 54 in the 12 fatal accidents in 2014. Last year compares well with most previous years on this basis. The annual average number of fatalities so far in this decade is now 26.1 compared with the previous decade’s average of 23.4 and the 1990s average of 35.9.

In business turboprop accidents, a total of 30 passengers and crew died in the nine fatal accidents in 2016, giving a simple average of 3.3 fatalities per fatal accident. The 2016 result is better than 2015, when 42 people were killed in 10 fatal accidents, and 2014, when there were 39 fatalities. The annual average number of passenger and crew deaths for this decade so far is 42.3; for the 2000s it was 49.8 and, for the 1990s, 58.1.

The fatality rate for business jets in 2016 showed a massive improvement over 2015, going from about one death per 7,700 seats in 2015 to one per 20,000 seats last year. The average fatality rate for the 2000s was about one per 7,250 seats and for the 1990s, one per 2,850 seats.

For the turboprop fleet, the fatality rate last year was about one per 3,700 seats, while that for 2015 was one per 2,500 seats. The average for the 2000s was one per 2,000 seats and that for the 1990s was one per 1,450 seats.

Meanwhile, a new class of business aviation is now available in Europe: on 1 March, the regional aviation safety agency EASA cleared commercial operations (including business charters) in single-engine turbine-powered aircraft at night and in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) – which effectively means in bad weather. This has been permitted in much of the rest of the world for many years, but Europe was reluctant to clear this kind of operation – known as CAT-SET-IMC (commercial air transport in single engine turbine aircraft in IMC) until the industry had demonstrated that the risks of single-engine operation could be reduced to what it considered an acceptable level. This ruling clears commercial operations at night and in bad weather by aircraft such as Daher’s TBM, Pilatus’ PC-12, and Cessna’s Caravan. Approval has been won by a combination of proven in-service engine/airframe reliability, and the use of smart avionics and flight management systems to permit the crew to glide accurately to a safe landing at nearby airfields in the unlikely event of engine failure, even in poor visibility.

The respected US-based Robert Breiling consultancy has done a study of single-engined turbine accident rates within North America, and concluded that the PC-12 has had a total of 10 fatal accidents there, but none attributable to engine power loss, while the TBM series has had 17 in total, four of them associated with engine power loss. The engine in both is from the same series, the venerable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT7.


Business aircraft in 2016 suffered four loss-of-control crashes, at least two of them seemingly because of pilot disorientation or incapacitation. Fatal accidents involving loss of control have become the most common cause of fatal accidents among airlines, and the industry is trying to understand why this should be so.

The worst business aviation accidents last year included the following:

29 March: an Aero Teknic Mitsubishi MU2 (N246W) that crashed on approach to runway 07 at Iles de la Madeleine, Canada, in daylight but with a gusting wind, overcast at 200ft and poor visibility. The five passengers and two pilots on board were all killed. The aircraft struck the ground about 1.4nm short of the runway threshold.

Mitsubishi MU-2 crash 29 March 17

Transportation Safety Board of Canada

29 July: a Cal-Ore Life Flight Piper PA-31T (N661TC) crashed near Arcata, California shortly after declaring an emergency with “smoke in the cockpit”. The pilot and three passengers were killed.

13 October: a Norjet Cessna Citation (C-GTNG) crashed not long after a night take-off from Kelowna, British Columbia, killing the pilot and three passengers. The aircraft climbed to about 7,000ft, entered a tight turn and spiralled to the ground with no distress call.

18 November: an American Medflight Inc Piper PA-31T (N779MF) was destroyed by impact and post-impact fire when it crashed just after a night take-off from runway 06 at Elko, Nevada, killing the pilot and three passengers. Witnesses report that the aircraft, having turned north, stopped climbing, then the left wing suddenly dropped, and the aircraft descended to impact. It was night VMC, and the air temperature was just above freezing.

4 December: a privately operated Beechcraft King Air 90 (N79CT) apparently went out of control shortly after levelling at 18,400ft, entered a steep descent and crashed near Sotillo de las Palomas, Spain, en route from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal, killing the pilot and his three passengers. The accident happened in daylight and there was no emergency call.

29 December: a Maverick Air Cessna CJ4 (N614SB) crashed into Lake Erie shortly after a night take-off from Cleveland, Ohio. The pilot and all five passengers were killed. The aircraft began a right turn, as cleared, soon after take-off, and climbed to 2,925ft. Then it entered a descending right turn that continued until impact with the water.


This analysis is based mainly on the FlightGlobal Ascend analytical report Business Aviation Safety and Losses 2016. The report takes into account accidents to all business jets that were designed as such, and excludes the “airliner types” that may be used as top-end VIP, presidential or corporate aircraft. The study also includes all turboprop twins used in the business role, and covers the figures for two pressurised single-engine turboprop types, the Pilatus PC-12 and Daher TBM 700/900. Trip numbers are difficult to determine in most of the world but fleet numbers are known, so rates are calculated according to the numbers of accidents befalling each type against the numbers in that fleet – a reliable estimate of exposure to risk.

Download the Business Aviation Safety and Losses report here

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