You are here:

Aerospace/Aviation/Frequency of Small Plane Disasters

Advertisement


Question
Hello Mr. Norkus,
I've been wondering why it seems listening to the news that there are much more small private plane crashes as compared to lear jets, business jets, or larger commercial planes or jetliners?
Is it because the pilots of larger aircraft are more well trained? Could it be that small plane private pilots can more easily get away with drinking alcohol or taking drugs before flying? Or could it be there are more possibilities of flaws or design weaknesses in smaller aircraft structures or maybe their engines? I suppose it could also be that private small plane pilots can get a bit lazy and get away with less maintenance procedures too.
I am just searching for some answers to this in case I should ever decide to obtain my first, solo license.

Thank you greatly.

Mike E.

Answer
I've been wondering why it seems listening to the news that there are much more small private plane crashes as compared to lear jets, business jets, or larger commercial planes or jetliners.
Is it because the pilots of larger aircraft are more well trained?

Certainly the rates of pilot error and lack of judgement could go up when considering a recreational pilot versus one who makes their living flying but more often than not the media blows every little incident involving an airplane out of proportion. Such accidents are attention getting. More than 50% of the news I have ever heard on aircraft accidents and mishaps gets part of the story wrong too. News media loves to sensationalize such events for ratings.

Could it be that small plane private pilots can more easily get away with drinking alcohol or taking drugs before flying?

They could, but I'd say they don't. Pilots are a pretty responsible bunch. Doing stupid stuff with an airplane that could cost them their hard earned certificate and thousands, if not ten thousand dollars, certainly would be very atypical.

Or could it be there are more possibilities of flaws or design weaknesses in smaller aircraft structures or maybe their engines?

No. You may be surprised but most of the general aviation training fleet are 25+ year old aircraft that take a beating and keep on going. The older models are the most affordable, thus they are still in demand.

I suppose it could also be that private small plane pilots can get a bit lazy and get away with less maintenance procedures too.
Again, no. Airline or banner tow, it makes no difference. Federal oversight and safety protocol, plus loss of their job and or lawsuits keep mechanics pretty honest. It can happen, but it is certainly not commonplace just because they are a lazy or cheap 'small plane' pilot or mechanic. One needs to only look to Alaska Airlines 261 to see that even on the rare occasion, it can happen at an airline too.

I suggest reading the Nall report for a fuller picture about GA accident rates based on facts and no assumptions.
http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Safety-and-Technique/Accident-Analysis/Josep

It's also noteworthy to point out, "Perhaps the unfair comparison issue is cropping up yet again in the search for statistical analysis. While a discussion about airline fatality stats versus those in GA does come up, everyone realizes they’re two different ball games. Yet, is it fair to compare accident rates of aircraft that are designed to “go places” with those that mostly stick to training or even those that crop dust? The point is, to truly determine how safe an airplane is, you’ve got to compare it to aircraft doing the same kind of flying. Most people don’t want to purchase a more than 200-horsepower, 150-knot aircraft to do pattern work. They’d be more likely to travel, take the family on vacation or go on business trips."
Plane & Pilot points out some things to consider when trying to interpret the stats.
http://www.planeandpilotmag.com/proficiency/pilot-skills/deciphering-accident-st

You say you want answers in case "you ever decide to solo" (there isn't a solo license, only an endorsement). It sounds like you want to prove to yourself that something with an inherent risk is safe enough for you to attempt. Mike, if you really want to fly- just do it. Much like driving, some are better than others at it. If you truly belong in the sky, you will know it. Take a lesson or a demo flight. Check out the aircraft available in your area. Make a decision based on what you have a passion (or not) to do. The decision whether or not to invest such a large amount of time, money and effort to achieve this goal goes far beyond the statistics of GA accidents.

Good Luck. Give this a read as well. See the Private Pilot section-
http://www.pilotcareer.info

Aerospace/Aviation

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


D. Norkus

Expertise

I can address questions about airline pilot employment & entry level airline careers in the United States, women pilots, flight training, pilot certification, U.S. flight scholarships (mostly for women), aviation & airline safety topics, aviation accident investigation and airline operations. ***Please note, I cannot address flight training & career queries from outside the United States, or aero engineering degree programs/careers, aviation management topics. ****

Experience

Airline captain with 15 years past experience in airline ground operations. I have previously flown as a commercial skydive pilot & ferry pilot and majored in Aviation Science


Organizations
International Organization of Women Pilots- The Ninety-Nines, charter member of Women In Aviation International, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, Air Line Pilots Association.

Education/Credentials
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Aviation Safety/Accident investigation.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.