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"Pilot Error Biggest Cause of Small Plane Accidents"

Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Pilot Error Biggest Cause of Small Plane Accidents
By John Crawley

WASHINGTON - Running out of fuel, misjudging altitude and flying without
proper training in challenging conditions are some of the key reasons for
small plane crashes, a U.S. government study showed on Tuesday.

A General Accounting Office report showed that pilot error was blamed for
more than two thirds of general aviation accidents, which killed 559 people
in 1999. Fifteen of those victims were bystanders on the ground.

While the number of accidents involving small planes has dropped sharply
since the early 1980s, the accident rate for general aviation aircraft is
still roughly 24 times higher than the rate for commercial operations.

Roughly 69 percent of the general aviation fleet of 219,000 aircraft are
single-engine propeller planes.

The GAO study found that general aviation accidents declined from 3,233 in
1982 to 1,989 in 1998, a decrease of 41 percent. That equals roughly seven
accidents for every 100,000 flight hours.

The rate for commercial aircraft over the same period was 0.20 accidents per
100,000 flight hours.

Separately, the National Transportation Safety Board has asked Congress to
press the Federal Aviation Administration on the agency's initiatives to
reduce near collisions on airport runways.

Most runway incursions involve small planes, but several commercial
airliners have come dangerously close to one another this spring and summer.

In a letter to House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, an Alaska
Republican, three of the four safety board members expressed renewed
concerns about FAA collision warning technology being installed in dozens of

Carol Carmody, the acting chair, and members John Goglia and George Black
said the FAA is relying ``too much'' on technology that is taking too long
to implement and may not be effective and ``ignoring simpler measures.''

An FAA spokeswoman disagreed with the safety board's conclusion, stressing
that the problem was complex and the agency's approach was comprehensive.
There were 268 runway incursions so far this year, compared with 292 for the
same period in 2000.

``That's still too high, but the FAA is making progress,'' agency
spokeswoman Laura Brown said.


Personal or pleasure flying, which involves the use of small propeller
aircraft, accounted for only a third of hours flown in 1998 but made up
almost three quarters of fatal accidents, the GAO report found.

Business flying, in which pilots use an aircraft in connection with their
work, involved roughly 14 percent of aviation hours and five percent of
fatal accidents.

Corporate flying, which involves turbo-prop or jet aircraft usually flown by
professional pilots, accounted for only 10 percent of hours flown and no
fatal accidents.

The study found that pilots of small planes involved in fatal and non-fatal
accidents often make fatal procedural, skill and judgement errors.

For instance, 16 percent of fatal accidents involved a failure to maintain
safe flying speed.

More than 13 percent of accidents involved misjudgment of distance, altitude
or clearance, while more than 11 percent involved flying in conditions of
reduced visibility without proper training.

More than 10 percent of non-fatal accidents involved running out of fuel or
failure to clear a blocked fuel line. More than 12 percent of non-fatal
accidents involved inadequate pre-flight preparations.


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