A really bad week

July 8, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

I always cringe a little when a holiday weekend comes along. It’s good that people are out flying but it also means that the accident potential goes up. Pilots are destination oriented and they want to get to where they want to get to. The highlights of last week’s problems include the usual fender benders and some nasty crashes.

Here’s the early tally with no purpose to pass judgment but to remind everyone that the laws of physics and gravity are absolute. (For trivia, and perhaps to make a point, the mass of the Earth is 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms). We don’t overpower mother nature for long!!!

Totals for the week:
65 accidents (2007 average was 26.6 per week)
9 fatal accidents (2007 average was 4.8)
12 fatalities (2007 average was 8.6)
Only 7 involved homebuilt aircraft

10 take-off accidents, two fatal with three fatalities
19 landing accidents (3 in seaplanes)

13 forced landings following power loss (one confirmed fuel exhaustion)
5 gear-up landings
4 gear collapses
5 fatal crashes under unknown circumstances (6 fatalities), including two in gliders
3 stalls, one fatal, the other two after power loss on short final
One fatal wire strike, a crop-dusting accident, 3 wingtip strikes, and a taxi collision.

As you might have suspected, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the worst:
Friday — 18 accidents, 2 fatal, 2 fatalities
Saturday — 9 accidents, 1 fatal, 2 fatalities
Sunday — 11 accidents, 3 fatal, 5 fatalities

There were 3 helicopter accidents during the week – no fatalities – that are not included in the above numbers, so despite snarky comments regarding rotor wing aerodynamics or lack thereof, the heli pilots are doing a pretty good job.

Makes and models covered the spectrum: gliders, antiques, a few warbirds, several twins, high performance singles, basic aircraft, a crop duster, a banner tower, one Light Sport Aircraft.

While old aircraft, as a group, carry their age well, there appear to be instances where something broke. Was there anything that should have been replaced sooner?

For pilots, as usual, we have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves that confidence fades more slowly than proficiency. All the hours in the logbook are just that – wonderful memories but the most critical flight is the one we’re about to make. Have we actively managed the risks or are we just letting safety happen? Challenge yourself and your fellow pilots, respectfully, to actively look for the possibilities. The next Fourth of July will be great one – be there!!!

(Thanks to David Kenny – ASF’s Safety Database Manager for the statistics)

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Larry Petro


    Under Totals, in what sense were “only” 7 involving homebuilts? 7 what? Fatalities? If so, that’s a large number. In any case, editorializing in what is otherwise a statistical summary is out of place.

    Best regards,

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Thanks much for your note. In 2007, homebuilts made up 16% of all GA aircraft involved in accidents (226 of 1397), a figure that’s been tending to rise over the past decade — so 7 of 65 (11%) is a little lower than expected. This may be damning with faint praise but as near as we can tell, relative to flight hours – homebuilts as a group fly significantly less than factory built so the accident rate per 100,000 hours is higher.

    Much of that has to do with the type of flying they are doing and is not a reflection on the aircraft design or its builder. The point of “only” was to praise the activity, as I did with helicopters – no slight intended.


  • Robert Jones

    Good Job Bruce.

    I was going to ask a similar question to Larry’s, without the attitude. I didn’t read it as “editorializng,” just a simple statement of fact. I’m not sure I understand why mentioning that statistic would be so upsetting…

    I read the “7” as 7 out of 65 or 10.7%. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Is there any way for Dave to tell what percentage of aircraft flying last week were homebuilts? Maybe percentage of hours flown or sorties? I’m not sure a simple registry count would suffice, since I think homebuilders tend to be more frequent flyers.

    If the hourly or sortie data doesn’t exist, what is the percentage of homebuilts to GA?

    Thanks again for a great article Bruce. As a recently retired combat Tomcat and Hornet guy, now flying the family around Florida in a Cirrus, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your last paragraph. It’s absolutely spot on!

    All The Best,
    Robert Jones
    CDR USN (ret.)

  • John Roberts

    I would be interested in seeing the number of accidents and fatalities for highway travel during the same period. Also, instead of providing comparisons to the 2007 weekly averages, shouldn’t you have compared to the same holiday week of 2007 or 2008? Why did you single out older aircraft for a comment?

    If you want to scare us, you must do so credibly.

  • Joel Cutler

    These data are indeed discouraging, if not unexpected. My only objection to this form of reporting though is the lack of a denominator. It seems to me that accident reporting should be done as a percentage of hours flown. On a holiday weekend in the summer, I’d wager that there were a lot more GA hours flown than on a regular weekend in the winter. If we really want to see if there is a significant change in accident rates we need to measure it on this basis.

  • http://topnotchstuff.com Ken Patrick

    I’d like to encourage more of this reporting. Too many times we hear about fatal crashes, and forget that “incidents” happen all the time. The GA sector is full of different ratings, aircraft classes, and experience levels. I, for one, don’t fly much anymore, can’t afford it at this time. But I follow the industry, especially the LSA class of aircraft. I’d like to see some more statistical breakdown, as noted above, for the different aircraft, especially the available information about aircraft hours, seat/passenger miles, incident types, etc. Information is valuable, as long as it is complete and reliable. I see no point in getting upset with the reporter, by the way! Thanks for taking a shot at this, and keep it up!

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Great commentary – I’d like to answer in specifics but a huge weakness in our numbers is reliable denominator data. That’s why we are cautious when discussing rates although the FAA’s GA activity survey is significantly better now then it was 5 years ago.

    The point about comparing to the same week of another year is a valid approach to answering a different question (whether this year’s worse than last year). The comparison to the weekly average makes the point that the Fourth of July holiday week is worse than most.

    In 2007, the last year for which the FAA has published estimates, amateur-built aircraft accounted for 9.5% of the fixed-wing GA fleet, 9.8% of those not used primarily for Part 135 operations, and accounted for 3.8% of estimated flight hours (4.3% of flight hours excluding Part 135). So our best estimate is that homebuilts fly less — certainly less than all those flight-school airplanes!

    The Hobsons’ choice is that if the gov’t very carefully measures all our flight hours, privacy is reduced but we’d have much better denominator data. That said, it wouldn’t change ASF’s approach to pilot education – the problem areas remain the same: VFR into IMC, poor takeoff and landing performance, maneuvering flight losses etc. So having the extra data doesn’t really change our educational approach.


  • Allan ORTH

    Was it really a good idea to encourage everyone to get out there and fly on the
    holiday weekend? More airplanes flying, more accidents. Simple statistics. I
    guess it could be said that none were midair collisions, so they would have
    happened regardless of how many planes were in the sky.

  • Matt B.

    Funny how AOPA encouraged us all to go flying over the weekend…now they are highlighting blogs in ePilot that point out how many people died because the skies were so crowded. That’s a mixed message, AOPA!

  • Chris Pressley

    It’s not a mixed message at all. It’s a wake-up call. Perform a thorough pre-flight. Do a simple weight & balance. Don’t push the aircraft beyond it’s capabilities or yours. If you’re a bit rusty, spend $25 for half an hour with your favorite CFI to help eliminate your weaknesses, identify bad habits that may have crept in, and have some fun while doing it. If your CFI is any good, you’ll be wanting more.
    None of these accidents occurred because of crowded skies. Inattention to detail, poor judgement, and poor flying skills are to blame.

  • J. R. Bridges III

    in the stats you compared the number of accidents on this holiday week to an average of weekly accidents in 2007…I would be more interested in comparing this number, 65, to the same holiday week of 2007. Do you have those numbers?
    J. R. Bridges III
    Plano, Texas