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Why Are Fatality Rates for Private Aircraft Rising?

Many of our readers may remember the tragic story from January of this year involving a family returning from a Key West vacation in their private plane. The plane crashed in Kentucky, killing four people — two adults and two children. The sole survivor was a 7-year-old girl who, dressed for a Florida vacation rather than a cold January night further north, walked alone through the woods to get help.

While some small aircraft tragedies make the news because the victims were prominent people or because of inspiring survival stories, there are more private airplane crashes than many people realize. In fact, while commercial airline safety has improved over the years, general aviation accident rates have remained largely unchanged. While air and vehicle fatality rates aren’t measured comparably, some statistics indicate that more people are killed in private planes than automobiles.

When the numbers are examined more closely, it seems clear that not all small airplanes are equally risky. While accidents and fatalities involving business and corporate jets have declined, those involving personal aircraft have risen. In the past decade, the fatality rate for personal aircraft has risen in the past ten years by 25 percent.

Why are private airplanes increasingly deadly? Often it comes down to pilot error. One aviation safety expert says that the requirements for periodic training and proficiency tests are not as rigorous for personal pilots as for those who fly corporate aircraft. Thus, they may be less likely to maintain control of a plane if something goes wrong. Another problem that sometimes occurs is when pilots who are not qualified to fly a plane solely based on instruments get into low-visibility situations. That was determined to be the cause of the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his two passengers, his wife and sister-in-law, in 1999.

Pilot error isn’t always to blame. Private aircraft don’t have the same safety features and backup systems as commercial airliners. However, additional safety features are being included in newer planes. These should help improve the odds for private pilots and their passengers.

By determining whether an accident was caused by pilot error, a problem with the plane itself or some other factor is essential to helping victims or surviving family members seek compensation for their losses through wrongful death and other lawsuits. A thorough investigation can also provide vital information that can help prevent further tragedies.

Source: Live Science, “Why Private Planes Are Nearly as Deadly as Cars,” Stephanie Pappas, accessed April. 30, 2015

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