Accidents Edge Up in 2019: NTSB


The National Transportation Safety Board published its preliminary accident stats for 2019 that show both general aviation and the airlines with a slight increase in both total and fatal accidents. On-demand Part 135 operators saw a slight decline in accidents but an increase in the fatal rate. While the NTSB will conduct a more in-depth analysis of the figures in the near future, the early stats reveal an industry undergoing expansion—remember, this is through 2019—and, with that, a greater number of accidents. This time next year, the results of the massive 2020 downturn will likely paint a very different picture.

For U.S. air carriers in both scheduled and non-scheduled service (under FAR Part 121), 2019 saw 40 total accidents (36 of those under scheduled service) with two fatal accidents resulting in four total fatalities. It is true that airlines flew more in 2019 than the year before, logging some 19.8 million flight hours (up from 19.3 million in 2018) and traveling almost 8.7 billion miles. Because there are so few Part 121 accidents overall, and a slight increase (from 31 total accidents in 2018 to 40), the overall accident rate “jumped” from 0.161 to 0.202 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The fatal accident rate “doubled” from 0.005 to 0.01 per 100,000 flight hours, but these remain vanishingly low fatal rates. It’s worth remembering that there were no domestic fatalities on Part 121 air carriers in 2002, 2007-8, and from 2010 to 2017.

Part 135 operations had 43 accidents in 2019, of which 13 involved fatalities; 34 people lost their lives. Unlike the scheduled airlines, Part 135 operators (mainly commuters) flew fewer hours in 2019. Commuter airlines flew 415,162 compared to 421,319 the year before, resulting in one of the worse accident rates per 100,000 hours (2.168) in the last two decades. Since 2000, final rates were higher only in 2000-2002, 2008, and 2016. On-demand Part 135 companies flew 3.76 million flight hours in 2019, down from 3.84 million in 2018, and recorded a total accident rate of 0.903 per 100,000 flight hours (down from 1.041 in 2018) but an increase in the fatal rate, which moved from 0.182 to 0.319 per 100,000 flight hours, the worst since 2008.

Finally, for general aviation, while flight hours were up fractionally (21.8 million vs 21.7 in 2018), there were 55 fewer accidents (a total of 1,220) but more fatalities (406 on board, up from 376 in 2018), resulting in, predictably, a slight drop in overall accident rate, to 5.592 per 100,000 flight hours, but an increase in the fatal rate, to 1.069 (up from 1.025). Overall, the fatal accident rate in GA has hovered around 1 per 100K since 2015. Flight hours had been on steady increase since dropping below 20 million a year in 2013.  

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

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  1. The only area I have any real interest in — or have any personal control over — is the GA accident rate. Seems to me that a fatal rate of ~1.069 is pretty low and the statistical probability of YOU being that one is mighty low. We’ve reached the point of no significant ability to reduce it further. That it has remained essentially static since 2015 is further proof. Stuff happens, there are some situations that we can’t foresee or control and there are a few bad pilots around despite our best efforts to cull them out.

    The NTSB is in the business of crunching numbers and — to me — the numbers are saying that we’re all collectively doing a pretty good job. IF you further analyzed just exactly where the fatalities are, I’d bet that you’d find that there are some “dangerous” areas in aviation and the rest of us are doing a fine job keeping us safe. Any further actions are nothing more than chasing our tails in a circle. Pounding “safety” into the heads of pilots has done it’s job IMHO. But, of course, this subject is aviation diatribe filler material. We’ll never reach zero … no matter what the FAA says.

    • Fair point Larry regarding the fatality rate, but from what I have seen with my own to eyes I actually believe GA can improve the accident rate by just going back to basics, and decreasing the overall accident rate has a chance of decreasing the fatality rate.

      At my home airport someone flying too wide a pattern lost an engine and had to put down off airport totaling the airplane. That in itself was unnecessary. An hour later while visiting the owner’s hangar I found an entire kidney tank amount of oil on the ramp in front of the hangar door and instantly knew the rest of that story. He had just completed an oil change by the way.

      I recently watched heart in mouth as an attempted takeoff with a rough engine , not using the entire airstrip, ended up in rolling pasture. Looking in the cockpit after the crash I noticed the ignition key switched to one mag only and figured out immediately the rest of that story.

      One more: An acquaintance filled his underpowered 4 place airplane with passengers on a warm day and using less than the entire length of a 2000 foot airstrip never got airborne. Scratch one more nice airplane off the rolls.

      If people would simply pay attention to this kind of basic stuff which we all learned on day one I believe the overall accident rate would be reduced, hopefully also impacting the fatality rate.

  2. If we allow the number crunchers and their surrogates in the FAA to run amok, they’ll outlaw flying recreationally to reduce the accident or fatality rate to zero. Statistically, that’s impossible. My email inbox is filled with crap from the FAA about safety courses. I don’t need no more stinking safety courses to know that flying is infinitely unforgiving of stupidity and that’s that. I let it drive my thoughts with respect to aviating all the time I made it to septuagenarian status as a pilot for over half a century and that’s that.

    I know pilots who are SO concerned over everything that they’re afraid of everything. That’d be the opposite end of the spectrum. In the middle is the “meat” of the subject and I feel we’re all doing pretty darned good.

  3. I would expect an increase in the statistical accident rates for part 91 flying in 2020. Not because of many more accidents, but fewer flying hours. Such is the nature of statistical analysis using small numbers. Larry does have a point in that a large number of accidents are caused by people doing dumb things, often in spite of knowing better. Flying shares that problem with driving cars. If we could get rid of the people overloading planes, ignoring weather forecasts, running out of fuel or flying defective airplanes, we could get a lot closer to zero. Just like if we could stop drunk driving, people watching their cell phones instead of the road, or other similar activities, the highway death rate would drop. Unfortunately, neither one is likely to happen.