corporate aviationaccident causes 1996Listed fatal accidents by

No ofNo of


Aircrew error28156



Loss of control1051

Engine failure/fire425

Structure/systems fail13

Operations error12


Airframe/systems fire00

ATC error00

Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) refers both to collision with high ground or rising terrain, and also to collision with level ground (eg: on approach) when the aircraft is fully under control.

corporate aviation ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTSDavid Learmount/L

Even in general aviation's business sector, the pilot is the weakest link

David Learmount/london

The 1996 listing of business general-aviation (GA) accident reveals that aircrew error was a causal factor in 84% of the fatal accidents and 89% of fatalities. This is worse than in the airline sector of commercial aviation, where the Ìgure is reckoned to be unacceptably high at 60-70%, but appears to be stuck there as aircraft become progressively more reliable and technical failure thus less likely to be the primary cause of accidents.

Perhaps this difference is to be expected. Airline pilots operate in crews of at least two, whereas business pilots are often on their own. With the marked exception of crews who ßy some corporate twinjets and tri-jets, airline pilots, on average, operate with more sophisticated ßight-deck equipment and generally ßy to into airports with better approach aids.

Finally, businesses which do not want to rely upon airlines for air transport achieve it in a variety of ways: they can own and run their own corporate-aircraft operation; they can buy into a company which offers "fractional ownership" of a corporate-type ßeet; they can charter from air-taxi companies or Ìxed-base operators (FBOs) for ad hoc or regular services; or the company boss owns and ßies his own aircraft, and charges business trips to the company balance sheet in much the same way as distance travelled by car.

An executive who makes use of all these options from time to time could be ßying in one of the world's most sophisticated aircraft piloted by a full-time professional, or at the other end of the scale a simply equipped piston twin ßown by a pilot who might operate with a private licence and no clearance for ßight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).

First accidents list

The 1996 world business-aircraft accident list, run for the Ìrst time in Flight International, deals with jet-powered and turboprop aircraft designed speciÌcally for the business-aircraft role and the up-market end of private ownership, or small commuter-type airliners used as corporate transport.

Altogether, there were 64 accidents, 33 of them fatal, and the fatalities total was 176. Jet-powered aircraft were involved in 23 of the accidents (36%) and nine of the fatal crashes (27%) in which 54 people died (31%). Given that the number of corporate aircraft registered worldwide totals about 8,500 each of jet aircraft and turboprops (Flight International, 17-23 September, P40-50), that would suggest that jet aircraft are safer, or are ßown more safely. Because not even the US authorities maintain records of the number of trips ßown in the corporate-aviation market, however, and given that turboprop aircraft are often ßown on much shorter sectors, the accident-rate per departure may not tell the same story.

Pilots of jet aircraft, despite the fact that they operate with more sophisticated cockpits and navigational aids, do not appear to be signiÌcantly more likely to avoid controlled ßight into terrain (CFIT): they were involved in 33% of the fatal CFIT accidents, and in more than one-third of the fatal accidents involving IMC and/or weather.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC)has compiled a list of "signiÌcant safety issues" which it says need to be addressed. Several of these affect the business-aviation community including:

nAdequacy of management in commuter, air -taxi and charter operations;

ncontrolled ßight into terrain;

nmis-use of global-positioning system (GPS satellite navigation);

nadequacy of work/rest schedules.

According to national aviation authorities, including the TSBC, misuse of GPS in GA operations generally consists of using it beyond its approved performance parameters for IMC approaches to remote airÌelds which have no terrestrial aids or have relatively primitive equipment fitted.

Highlighted for particular attention, however, says the TSBC, is the fact that air-taxi operations, together with aerial work, account for "a very high percentage" of all aircraft accidents. The aerial-work risk-factor is well-known, but for the TSBC to include the air-taxi sector also is particularly worrying. Organisations which are licensed to offer air-transport services for reward are in the public-transport sector, even if each charter is for an aeroplane and crew, not just for a seat and a destination, as with scheduled airlines.

Seasonal behaviour

A characteristic of corporate and air-taxi operation during winter, according to the accident list, is for pilots to land in snowy conditions on runways which have been inadequately cleared of snow.

Browsing through accident lists for previous years and different sectors of the industry shows that this characteristic is not conÌned to 1996, nor speciÌcally to business operation, but to any kind of ßying which makes extensive use of provincial airÌelds during snowy weather - particularly when the snow has become compacted or icy.

There were four such events in 1996, none involving fatalities, but all causing serious damage to the aircraft. It is not clear whether the pilots were taking known risks or were inadequately informed of the runway conditions by air trafÌc control.

Weather-related accidents constituted 39% of the fatal events. Not surprisingly, it is the northern-hemisphere winter which hits the numbers hardest, and this shows up most dramatically in the USA where far more ßying takes place than anywhere else.

November seems always to catch pilots unawares, with accidents induced not so much by atrocious conditions as by increased exposure to IMC and the early onset of darkness, especially in countries which enjoy long summer days with visual meteorological conditions rarely interrupted (see accident tables entry for 1 November).

In November 1996 there were six accidents, of which Ìve were fatal. December brought seven accidents, of which Ìve were fatal. Among the seven, three were directly weather-related and Ìve were CFIT, which almost invariably means that the aircraft was in IMC.

Although the level of business activity and related ßying tends to dip in January and February in deference to the all-powerful northern winter and its associated social customs, it is also the month by which time northern-hemisphere pilots ought to be attuned to seasonal conditions and to be planning to accommodate them.

In practice, however, there were 16 accidents in January, including Ìve fatal incidents, which is the highest monthly accident total in 1996. By February, pilots appear to have got the winter message, but there were still two accidents, both fatal and both seasonal-weather related.

Business ßiers who do not have the beneÌt of a sophisticated airline operations organisation which can present them with print-outs of all relevant weather and en route information have much more pre-ßight preparation to do. Because they often ßy to less well-equipped airÌelds, however, it is even more important that they do it.o

Source: Flight International