Is Pilot Error the Leading Cause of Small Airplane Crashes?

By July 9, 2014Aviation Accidents

While crashes involving U.S. commercial airliners have been few and far between in recent years, the number of crashes of small private aircraft has unfortunately held steady, at about 5 accidents a day. It’s been estimated that almost 500 people die each year in this country from fatal private airplane crashes.

Who or what is responsible for these accidents is a subject of debate.

Causes of Aviation Accidents

Generally, there are three types of causes for aviation accidents:

The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency responsible for investigating airplane crashes, has found pilot error as the cause of 86 percent of the accidents it reviewed. A comprehensive investigation by a major media outlet challenges the NTSB’s conclusions.

In June 2014, USA Today published a lengthy look into general aviation aircraft accidents. The investigative series points to design issues and defective parts as crucial causes that the NTSBhas overlooked in a significant number of small airplane crashes. Defective aircraft parts uncovered by the newspaper’s investigation include:

  • Pilot seats that slide backwards without warning, making pilots lose control of the aircraft
  • Poorly designed helicopter blades and dangerous fuel tanks for helicopters that can rupture and explode in minor accidents
  • Carburetors in some small airplanes that flood or reduce fuel to the engine, resulting in mid-air stalls

Juries Form Conclusions That Differ From Crash Investigators’

The reports detailed why manufacturers’ defects is a much larger cause of deadly aviation crashes than federal officials believe. For example, the author found jury verdicts in 21 lawsuits – totaling almost $1 billion – against manufacturers of aviation parts that the NTSB had absolved of blame in its investigations.

This is not to say that federal investigators don’t know what they’re doing. But individuals critically injured in catastrophic airplane accidents, or their families, may want to consult attorneys who are experienced in conducting independent airplane crash investigations in an effort to identify all those responsible.