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Human Factors In Fatal Aircraft Accidents

by John M. White |

I found an interesting report on the human factors in fatal accidents, and while the study was conducted some years ago the observations and data are still revealing with respect to aircraft operations today. The same human factors in fatal aircraft accidents have probably existed since Orville and Wilbur took the first powered aircraft flights in the Wright Flyer! Lear 60 Crash This particular study examined 75 fatal accidents which occurred during the years 1988 through 1990. The largest proportion of the accidents occurred in general aviation aircraft on private/business flights, and 76% were in single engine aircraft. The first thing that surprised me was that fatal training accidents were substantially lower than the private/business sector, as were agricultural flights. An examination of the accidents show that most involve a sequence of events, but the most frequent first event leading to a fatal accident was loss of control followed by collision with terrain and control of the aircraft unknown. 72% of the accidents were judged to have involved pilot factors while the next lowest category - weather - accounted for 18%. The study then went on to examine what these pilot factors were and broke them down into 9 categories. These factors were:
  1. Poor judgment;
  2. Diverted attention;
  3. Failure to obtain/maintain flying speed;
  4. In-flight decisions or planning;
  5. Operation of aircraft beyond experience or ability;
  6. Perceptual misjudgment;
  7. Inadequate pre-flight preparation or planning;
  8. Improper operation of primary flight controls;
  9. Medical.
It has been assumed that good judgment was an inevitable by-product of flying experience; however, the data accumulated indicated that errors of judgment are made by experienced and inexperienced pilots alike. Airlines have recognized the error of judgment problem for a long time, even by experienced crews, which has led to significant improvements in recurrent training combined with rules of conduct when on the flight deck during critical phases of flight. However, for general aviation, and to some extent regional airline operations, pilot judgment continues to be a significant accident factor. We note the regional air carrier accident in Buffalo, NY and the distraction of the Northwest crew flying past their destination as an indication that these problems are still present today. In the conclusion of the report the authors note that organizational factors like training, supervision, regulation, commercial pressures and licensing remain a factor in a significant proportion of the accidents. Share your thoughts and observations in the comments section below so that we can all learn and improve our flying skills. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 You are professionals trained to deal with three things that can kill you: gravity, combustion, and inertia. Keep them under control, and you'll die in bed. — Sailor Davis, long-time TWA ground school instructor ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

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