Nall Report Finds Overall Accident Rate Decreased In 2020


The overall general aviation accident rate for 2020 decreased from 4.87 per 100,000 flight hours in 2019 to 4.69 per 100,000 hours, according to the 32nd edition of the Joseph T. Nall Report. Recently released by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Air Safety Institute (ASI), the report also found that the rate of fatal accidents was down from 0.89 per 100,000 hours in 2019 to 0.83 in 2020. There were a total of 1,051 accidents for the year, 187 of which were fatal, with ASI noting that flight activity dropped significantly from 25.5 million hours in 2019 to 22.4 million hours in 2020.

For 2020, the institute found that overall accident rates decreased for non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft along with commercial and non-commercial helicopters. In the commercial fixed-wing segment, the accident rate jumped from 1.62 accidents per 100,000 flight hours in 2019 to 2.17 per 100,000 hours in 2020. ASI reported an overall decrease in weather-related accidents and a drop in fatal maneuvering accidents. The 32nd Nall Report recorded a rise in both overall and fatal descent and approach accidents for the year while the area that resulted in the largest number of fatal accidents was stall/spin accidents.

“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 ASI 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. Furthermore, landing accidents continue to remain the leading type of accidents, but thankfully they account for the lowest number of fatal accidents.”

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. For the infrastructure Pros out there…the 1000′ AGL tower near one of the fields I fly into rarely has all or even most of it lights working, as I write this I can’t remember seeing lights on at all this summer, though it has been dutifully notam’d. Reaching out to airfield manager who reached out to state aviation, only concern seems to be whether it is notam’d or not, with the advice that if I drive to the base of the tower I could look up ownership info on a placard there.

    As towers propagate in our wireless world and with those above the lighting threshold elevation being approved contingent on lighting…is there a similar performance threshold for maintaining the lighting…or is satisfying the notam requirement where compliance ends?

    • I’ve wondered why airports are fringed with towers, malls, neighborhoods and apartments. One glaring example of such zoning stupidity is still talked about today: The F-86 crash in Sacramento. That tragedy should have poured ice water on zoning commissions to consider developments around airports very carefully. Our military base where I worked was closed due to zoning issues, with folks who lived nearby constantly complaining about noise. DUUUHHHHH!! It was an AIR FORCE BASE, not a tree nursery. Those folks would have you believe they woke up one morning and discovered someone had built an airport next to their hamlets during the night. City leaders must know the value of having airports to service their travelers and businesses. The last thing they should do is allow developers to build high density housing or retail stores in harm’s way.

  2. You can’t be sure how relevant and accurate the findings are, because we are not given all they considered and factored in. Was the time lost with the COVID lockdown factored, pilots who did get sick, and lost time flying. Did those who got sick have long COVID symptoms, and if so, were they ones that affected flying? Like “brain fog” and fatigue? And if none of that factored in, what about job loss or furloughed, and inflation that caused some not to fly as often, or delay dual instruction? So, there is much unknown here.

    • My bugaboo on safety issues is automation. Pilots are still prone to coupling gizmos for navigation and flying chores rather than to grasp that funny looking steering wheel thingy to physically operate the plane. This trend is manifested by many videos of planes plunging out of cloud bases during IMC, or even spinning to terra firma in VMC. Of course not all such mishaps are recorded for posterity, but at least the FAA is taking a stab at coaxing pilots to eschew hooking up computers to conduct their trips.