Nall Report: GA Fatal Accident Rate Continues to Fall


Even with higher flight activity, the general aviation fatal accident rate continues to decline, according to the just-released AOPA Joseph T. Nall Report. In 2015, the fatal rate was at a historic low of 0.92/100,000 flight hours and in 2016, the most recent year for which reliable data is available, it inched down further to 0.80. However, with total accidents higher, the overall accident rate moved up slightly from 4.87 in 2015 to 4.92 in 2016, with increasing flight activity not great enough to offset the higher numbers.  

The Air Safety Institute’s Richard McSpadden attributes the lower fatal rate to various industry safety initiatives and programs, some from the FAA and some from advocacy groups. Although the trends are generally positive, there are some rough spots in the data. For instance, the total number of non-commercial fixed-wing accidents reached 1037 in 2016 up from 961 in 2015, an increase of almost 8 percent. However, the percentage of these accidents that proved fatal was significantly lower—15 percent in 2016 compared to 20 percent in 2015. Landing accidents, according to the report, were up sharply, from 263 to 2015 to 334 in 2016, an increase of 27 percent. Although these accidents bend metal, they are rarely fatal. For the tailwheel aficionados among us, 129 of those accidents were in taildraggers, but none of those were fatal.

Further good news comes from a sharp decline in weather-related accidents, both fatal and non-fatal. In 2015, there were 30 fatal weather-related accidents, but only 12 in 2016. Non-fatal weather accidents dropped to 23 in 2016 from 39 during the previous year. ASI’s McSpadden says cockpit datalink weather might be one reason for this decline. Similarly, fuel management accidents may have been driven down by better technology. They dropped sharply in 2016, too, to 63 from 81 in 2015.

The Nall report shows that personal flying continues to account for the largest percentage of fatal accidents (78.8 percent) while instructional and other types of GA flying trail far behind. Instructional flights, for example, account for 8.1 percent of fatal accidents in fixed-wing aircraft but about 17 percent of total hours flown. Reflective of higher training standards and different flight profiles, commercial flying has a lower overall rate (1.98) than the GA average and also a lower fatal rate, although it rose slightly in 2016.

This year’s Nall report for the 2016-2017 season is the 28th for AOPA. It honors the memory of Joseph T. Nall, an NTSB member who died as a passenger in a Venezuela aircraft accident in 1989. This year’s Nall report introduced a new, web-based format that improves the ability to search the report’s data. Find the full report here and that data summary­ charts here.  


  1. Stuff like this interests me so I took the time to comb through the reports.

    I have no problem with absolute numbers … you can compare those stats year on year and side by side and know you’re comparing apples to apples. Any stats which are “rates” based upon “flight activity, however, I question. Based upon what valid data for flight hours are those numbers calculated? I have charts that show the amount of avgas produced is down by 1/3. The number of pilots are down, too. If the flight hours used for rates are erroneous (and I think they are?), the rates aren’t lower. The absolute numbers of accidents would — therefore — portend higher rates. Anyhow … a thought.

    Also, the “good” news as far as absolute numbers of accidents are likely directly related to the number of years a pilot has been flying and his/her age. Maturity plays a large role in good aeronautical decision making. I can’t speak for others but I can surely speak for me on that subject. I kinda like living on the right side of the grass these days so I tend to be far more careful than when I was 10′ tall and bullet proof.

    I did notice a couple of areas that caught my attention. In the area of fuel management, flight planning (having enough fuel for the task) was about equal with operating the fuel system itself. Given the recent “threat” of an expanded AD for PA28 fuel selector valve operation (dumb pilots finding ‘off’ in flight) suggest that increased emphasis on fully understanding and operating one’s fuel system needs attention (as opposed to making airplane owners pay for something they don’t need). And having a CFI or a second pilot on board isn’t necessarily helping the stats.

    I also noted that Sport Pilots don’t appear to be crashing in droves. That’s good news. Given the FAA’s insane preoccupation with medical status, one woulda thunk that pilots with no medical would be falling out of the sky in large numbers. The “medical incapacitation” category portends otherwise … and we all already knew that.

    Conspicuously absent from the data is the class or type of medical possessed by the accident pilots. As more than 50,000 pilots have now chosen to use BasicMed sans the traditional route, I see THAT as a statistic that ought to be analyzed as we move forward in time.

    Finally, landing an airplane appears to be dangerous. We should work on that. Can’t wait until “autoland” becomes available for GA. Drones have ‘RTB’ .. why shouldn’t GA? Garmin could put a green button next to the blue button. Push it and then just wait for the airplane to take you home. Why we could even tie fuel state to that function … no one would ever run out of fuel again. Then, the FAA could find something else to moan about. Just yesterday, I found a warning function in my new car (which scared me) that warned me that it was near freezing and the roads could be slippery. Automation … it’s a wonderful thing.