If you have recently lost a loved one in an aviation accident, you may wonder whether or not any of the top causes of general aviation accidents played a role. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has compiled a list of the top 10 leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents, the different types of accidents mentioned therein aren’t always easy to interpret.
As nationally renowned aviation accident lawyers Mithoff Law has created this resource to help clarify what is typically meant by each of these designated accident types.
Personal injury cases and how they relate to the top causes of general aviation accidents
Before diving into the top causes of general aviation accidents, let’s cover some of the basics regarding personal injury cases involving aviation accidents.
A wide range of causes can contribute to cases involving aircraft accidents or crashes. It may take substantial time for a governmental investigating agency such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to issue its findings.
With decades of experience in aviation accident cases, the attorneys at Mithoff Law understand how difficult the plane crash aftermath can be for surviving family members. We waste no time assembling an investigative team to pursue all available evidence and conduct an independent investigation into air crashes. In tandem with our subject matter experts, we have experience investigating the many diverse factors that can influence an aircraft accident, including:
- Human error
- Weather conditions
- Air traffic control
- Maintenance procedures
- Airframe or engine design
- Mental fatigue
By favoring a comprehensive investigative approach at the outset of any representation, we have been able to successfully represent those affected by a variety of air crashes, including commercial aviation, general aviation, and commercial helicopter operations (including offshore operations).
For example, Mithoff Law represented the surviving family members of the only Americans aboard Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. As with many air crashes, the client retained Mithoff Law before the investigating authority had issued a final report. Among other complications, the case involved questions of jurisdiction unique to international air crash cases. Regardless, Mithoff Law was able to resolve the claims of its clients before France’s BEA issued its Final Report into the crash.
Notably, the case findings have been recently recalled by the Houston Chronicle as being pertinent to the Boeing 737-MAX aircraft crash.
The top 10 leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents
General aviation refers to any civilian flights except for scheduled passenger or cargo transportation by an airline. Broadly speaking, general aviation applies mostly to smaller aircraft, including those flown by personal aircraft owners and pilots.
According to the FAA, the top 10 leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents from 2001-2016 include:
1. Loss of control in-flight (LOC-I)
A loss of control in-flight is the most common cause of general aviation accidents. Loss of control in-flight typically occurs when a plane deviates from its “flight envelope,” i.e. the aerial region within which an aircraft operates safely. This envelope varies per aircraft and defines the safe degrees to which a plane can pitch and bank, as well as the aircraft’s appropriate speed (which can also vary according to weather conditions).
A broad spectrum of issues causes loss of control in-flight, including: stalls, weather conditions, and/or pilot error. In some cases, aspiring pilots may not receive adequate training for how to handle a plane that deviates from its operational envelope. Regardless, LOC-I is the leading cause of general aviation accidents and causes thousands of plane crashes and fatalities worldwide each year.
2. Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)
Second in the FAA’s top causes of general aviation accidents is controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). CFIT occurs when an aircraft unintentionally collides with land, water, or some other obstacle without there being any indication that the pilot lost control. While these types of plane accidents can happen under many different circumstances, the vast majority of CFIT accidents occur as a plane is approaching to land.
CFIT accidents are often caused by issues with visual contact, disorientation, weather conditions, descending below the minimum safe altitude (MSA), and procedural mistakes.
Advances in terrain avoidance and warning systems (TAWS) and ground proximity warning systems (GPWS) are helping to alert pilots and crews of when an aircraft is entering a hazardous situation so that they can act before it’s too late.
3. System component failure – power plant (SCF-PP)
In an aircraft, the power plant refers to the system required to propel the plane and may refer to just an engine or both propellers and an engine. A system component failure – power plant accident occurs when a failure of all or a part of a power plant (pistons, fans, the gearbox, transmission, fans, power plant controls, reversers, propellers, etc.) makes an aircraft impossible to control. SCF-PP accidents can occur in both single and twin-engine planes.
4. Fuel-related problems
Next up on the top causes of general aviation accidents: fuel-related accidents. This type of airplane accident is typically caused by one of several miscalculations: the miscalculation of a plane’s current fuel quantity, a miscalculation of the amount of fuel an aircraft needs, and a misunderstanding of the type of fuel an aircraft needs. A fuel issue can also be the result of a mechanical malfunction or failure of an aircraft component.
All of these issues can result in either fuel exhaustion (a total lack of fuel) or fuel starvation (in which fuel is present but cannot reach the engine), both of which can lead to engine failure.
5. Unknown or undetermined
When plane wreckage is difficult to reach (as in underwater or in unsafe terrain) or when damage to the plane wreckage is extensive, it is not always possible to find out information or evidence pertaining to an accident. Under these circumstances, the agencies that investigate the causes of airplane crashes, including the FAA and the NTSB, may be unable to determine the cause of an accident.
6. System component failure – non-power plant (SCF-NP)
A system component failure – non-power plant accident occurs when a failure of non-engine parts makes an aircraft impossible to control. Outside of the engine, there are still many areas of an aircraft that can fail. These include:
- Software and database system failures
- Maintenance failures
- The failure of the control system, collective, tail rotor drive, and rotorcraft cyclic
- The separation of parts from the airplane
7. Unintended flight in IMC (UIMC)
Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) refers to weather conditions in which a pilot must refer to instruments in order to navigate. When doing so, the pilot is flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) instead of Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
Accidents caused by unintended flight in IMC occur when a pilot who was previously navigating using only Visual Flight Rules (VFR) loses visual references and is either unqualified to fly in IMC and/or is flying an aircraft that’s unequipped to fly IMC.
8. Midair collisions (MAC)
Midair collisions are accidents where two aircraft collide while still in-flight. The majority of midair collisions occur near airports, where air traffic is at its heaviest. There are many factors at play when determining the cause of MACs, from the quality of airspace design to pilot management to the use of Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS).
9. Low-altitude operations (LALT)
LALT accidents occur when a pilot is intentionally operating in close proximity to terrain, water, or other obstacles. These accidents do not include accidents that occur during the takeoff or landing phases of flights. Many of LALT accidents occur during aerial work. They may also be the result of ostentatious maneuverings, sightseeing, or simply needing to fly closely to mountains or canyons.
While the aforementioned 9 types of aircraft accidents make up the majority of fatal crash types. However, there are many other types of airplane accidents, including bird strikes, hijackings, fires, and so on, that make up this final category of top causes of general aviation accidents.
Mithoff Law represents those affected by aviation accidents
As the top causes of general aviation accidents make clear, crash cases are often complex and involve a wide array of technical specialties. The attorneys at Mithoff Law draw on our extensive experience in the field and our professional relationships with a wide range of subject-matter experts to ensure that we can zealously represent our clients’ interests when we are called on to investigate and pursue a claim.
Ready to work with a law firm that has decades of experience handling personal injury cases for both general and commercial aviation accidents?
Request a consultation with Mithoff Law’s airplane accident lawyers in Houston or our Texas helicopter accident lawyers, by calling 713-654-1122 today.
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