Aviation Accidents on the Decline Per Air Safety Institute Report

Stall/spin accidents account for the largest number of fatal aviation accidents, according to the latest Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Air Safety Institute report.

The AOPA’s Air Safety Institute’s new Nall Report indicates that aviation accidents declined in 2020. [Courtesy: Bee Calder/Unsplash]

It’s always a good thing when the number of aviation accidents is on the decline. Aviation accidents dropped by about 10 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to the 32nd annual Joseph T. Nall report, produced by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute (ASI).

The Nall Report, which is named for former National Transportation Safety Board member Joseph Nall who was killed in an aircraft accident in 1989, covers airplanes with maximum gross takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or less, as well as helicopters of all sizes. The annual report reviews aircraft accidents that have occurred during the previous year.

Aviation-related fatalities in 2020 fell by about 13 percent, according to ASI. In 2020, there were 1,051 accidents, of which 187 were fatal – an improvement over the 1,167 accidents with 214 fatalities reported the year prior.

However, the number of accidents occurring during descent and approach rose in both overall and fatal accidents, with stall/spin accidents accounting for the largest number of fatal accidents, the report noted.

Bigger Picture

The Nall report quantifies accidents in relation to 100,000 flight hours. "Overall accident rates decreased from 4.87 per 100,000 flight hours to 4.69 and the fatal accident rate decreased from 0.89 to 0.83 from 2019 to 2020, respectively," the study said.

Weather is still a leading contributor to fatal accidents, however the overall number of weather related accidents was down for 2020, as was the number of fatalities from maneuvering accidents, the report said.

“An area where we see some discouragement is the commercial fixed-wing total accident rate, which rose following two years of decline,” said Robert Geske, AOPA Air Safety Institute manager of aviation safety analysis. “We are also disappointed to see the number of fatal fuel-related accidents, which has remained steady at an average of eight per year for several years.”

In addition, non-commercial fixed-wing accidents decreased slightly with the fatal accident rate declining to 0.92 and the total accident rate decreasing to 5.27. Helicopter accidents—both commercial and non-commercial—saw relatively flat fatal accident rates from 2019 to 2020, but overall accident rates decreased.

Accidents during landing continue to be the most common, but they produce the fewest fatalities, Geske noted.

The report is issued annually, and also has a digital platform that updates on a rolling 30-day cycle. In addition to looking at the number of events, the report looks at trends, such as the increase or decrease in accidents during certain phases of flight, such as maneuvering, takeoffs and landings.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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