When the Cirrus SR20 and 22 first appeared a dozen years ago, the models’ full airframe parachute system and stall/spin resistant wing were expected to set new standards for light aircraft safety. But according to Aviation Consumer‘s January edition, the Cirrus line has achieved, at best, a middle of the road safety and accident record that makes its fatal accident rate a bit better than Mooney and Piper high-performance models, but a bit worse than the Columbia/Corvalis series and Cessna’s venerable 172 and 182. The magazine studied accident records dating back as far as 30 years on 11 popular GA light aircraft. Among its findings are that the Cirrus overall accident rate is 3.25/100,000, placing it closer to the top of the list of airplanes Aviation Consumer considered and about half of the GA average overall accident rate of 6.3/100,000. Only Diamond’s DA40 and DA42 had better overall accident rates — dramatically so in the case of the DA40, whose overall rate is 1.19, a little more than a sixth of the GA average.
Cirrus aircraft finished lower when fatal rate is considered. The Cirrus combined rate (SR20 and SR22) is 1.6, compared to the GA average of 1.2/100,000. Diamond’s DA40 has the lowest fatal rate at .35, followed by the Cessna 172 at .45, the Diamond DA42 at .54 and the Cessna 182 at .69. Cessna’s Corvalis line, which began life as the Columbia, has a fatal rate of 1.0, a bit less than the GA average of 1.2. The Columbia/Corvalis models are essentially similar in construction and performance to the Cirrus SR22, but without the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
The magazine also examined how effective CAPS has been and concludes that when deployed under optimal conditions of speed and altitude, the system has proven effective in saving lives in preventing serious injury. But it’s far from perfect. Of 31 CAPS deployments, both intentional and possibly unintentional, 39 of 57 occupants emerged without injury, while seven occupants have been seriously injured by touchdown under CAPS. There have been six fatalities associated with CAPS deployment, several of which occurred either at very low altitude or speeds beyond the system’s demonstrated performance envelope. One surprise from the magazine’s study is that at least 12 of the aircraft that landed under CAPS were repaired and returned to service.
The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association has studied Cirrus accidents extensively and concludes that the models would have a much better safety record if some 83 pilots who got into trouble in circumstances where CAPS was well within its envelope had simply used it. COPA is developing new training methods to teach pilots how to include CAPS more effectively in their response to abnormal flight situations.