THERE WERE fewer fixed-wing general-aviation (GA) aircraft accidents in the USA in 1996 than in any other year since record-keeping began in 1938, and fatal-accident numbers were the lowest since 1952, says the Air Safety Foundation.

According to the 1997 Nall Report, which analyses GA accident trends, poor pilot performance is the root cause of most crashes. In 1996, low-level manoeuvring flight, mishandled approaches, and visual-flight-rules (VFR) flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) were leading causes of fatal accidents.

Weather is a major cause of fatal accidents, being cited in more than one-third of all pilot-related fatal accidents. Weather also accounts for almost two-thirds of fatal accidents in multi-engined aircraft and more than 40% of fatal accidents in single-engined retractable-gear aircraft. More than half of all fatal weather-related accidents were caused by attempted VFR flight into IMC.

Nearly half of all 1996 accidents occurred during take-off and landing. Meanwhile, business aviation continues to have a better record than that of personal flying. Pilots on business trips accounted for 15% of all flight operations in 1996, but only 4% of the total accidents. Personal flights, on the other hand, comprised 38% of GA flying, but represented 65% of total accidents.

Despite recent media attention on GA mid-air collisions, the Nall Report shows that they remain uncommon. In 1996, there were 18 mid-air collisions, including five which produced fatalities. Such collisions continue to occur mainly on VFR days at low altitude and close to airports, says the report.

Source: Flight International