Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
April 15, 2019

Are Small Plane Crashes More Common?

Despite the fact that aviation technology has made incredible strides in recent decades, small private plane crashes are still exceedingly common. Some analysts consider small private planes as dangerous as cars, and although they typically do not receive as much media attention as major airliner crashes, small plane crashes occur at a worrisome rate.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) use statistics and crash data to develop new safety and navigation methods and equipment with the hope of lowering crash rates. While commercial air traffic data shows a significant decline in accidents in recent decades, as an industry, general aviation has had a relatively flat accident rate in recent decades despite these improvements.

NTSB and FAA Statistics

The NTSB and FAA track various metrics in the aviation world and have noted a decrease of almost 75% in total deaths from aviation accidents. According to the NTSB, the fatality rate hovers around one death per 100,000 hours of aviation time. Comparing aviation accident and fatality rates to rates of motor vehicle crashes on the ground is difficult, as most databases measure motor vehicle accident rates based on miles traveled whereas aviation accident trackers consider flight hours for determining fatality rates. Converting these statistics on an equivalent baseline would mean that getting into a private plane is roughly 19 times more dangerous than riding in a car.

Reasons Why Small Planes Crash More Often

Commercial airliners have sophisticated safety and navigation technology, and these aircraft fly on planned and carefully controlled air traffic routes. Commercial airline pilots also undergo extensive training and have access to numerous backup systems and failsafe mechanisms that do not exist in most smaller private planes. Smaller plane passengers face several unique risks for many reasons.

  • Amateur pilots technically have more freedom and face fewer restrictions than commercial airline pilots. They do not require as many flight hours to qualify for amateur flight licenses compared to commercial pilots. Inexperience is a commonly cited reason for small plane crashes.
  • Smaller planes can land at various airports, even those with unpaved runways in some cases. However, pilots must have sufficient experience to handle difficult landings.
  • Many small aircraft crashes happen from “controlled flight into terrain,” which means a pilot was in control of the aircraft but allowed it to hit a mountain, water, trees, or other terrain for some reason due to poor visibility or inattention.
  • Losing control of the aircraft is the leading cause of small plane crashes. Smaller planes are more vulnerable to turbulence and other natural hazards in flight.
  • Roughly two aviation accidents occur each week due to losing fuel mid-flight.
  • Wildlife can sometimes pose a threat to a smaller plane. For example, some small planes have crashed after birds flew into their engines, causing critical failures mid-flight.
  • Dangerous designs and defective parts are also common reasons for small aircraft crashes.

These are just a few reasons why smaller aircraft are more vulnerable and more likely to crash than commercial airliners. When these accidents happen, survivors are uncommon and when people are lucky enough to survive plane crashes they usually sustain severe, life-changing injuries.

Legal Options After a Small Plane Crash

Anyone who survives a plane crash or sustains injuries or other damages on the ground due to a small plane crash should consult with an attorney about options for legal recovery. If pilot error, inattention, or another kind of negligence caused the crash, victims should hold the responsible party accountable, if possible. Another possible option for recovery could be a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of a dangerous or defective aircraft. Even small planes can cause devastating injuries and significant property damage, and survivors should consult with legal counsel to determine their rights to recovery.

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