Air travel is the safest form of transportation. Each year there are over 10 million flights and most all arrive at their intended destination. However a recent U.S. government report has just been released warning of “a high risk of catastrophic runway collision occurring in the United States”. That’s right; it is more dangerous while you’re still on the ground before you take off. Last year over 330 runway incidents occurred and many “near misses”.
Southern California is a pilot’s dream; lots of clear skies but also a high density of pilot’s and airports. Moreover, California is also home to the 3 topped ranked airports for total number of runway incursions; Los Angles International, (LAX), Long Beach, and our own Orange County John Wayne airport. They rank 1, 2 and 3 for the total number of incidents per 100, 000 flights.
Since 2001, 108 passengers have died in ground collisions. Analysts blame poor runway design, weather, congestion and pilot error. Last year LAX had 95 incidents, with eight serious. Just two days ago there was another close call, the ninth this year and we’re still in the midst of the busiest travel season. This one was caused by a controller’s error and officials are hoping that a new centerline taxiway expected to be completed next June, will help alleviate some of the massive congestion.
General aviation, planes less than 12,500 pounds, have 16 times the fatalities that the general air carriers have. One reason is the experience level of the pilot. In 2005, general aviation had 632 deaths as compared with 40 commercial flights. This is still safer than the almost 43, 000 auto accidents!
We were all saddened last week when a Southern Californian family, a father and daughter died when the small plane they were flying in crashed in severe weather in Panama, Central America. Michael Klein, 37, and his daughter Talia, 13 were traveling to his eco resort when the plane went down. The investigators are looking into whether there was a mechanical malfunction, but they strongly suspect bad weather. Why would a pilot fly into weather that they did not have experience? Lack of experience is a primary reason.
Takeoffs, landings, and weather, are the most vulnerable segments to general aviation accidents.
Takeoff is the phase of flight that accounts for about 20% of all accidents. It is also the most unforgiving. There is little altitude to maneuver and even less time to analyze a problem if one occurs. Whether it’s mechanical failure or some other factor, it’s essential to have a contingency plan, and this usually comes with experience and knowledge of your aircraft.
Every good pilot knows that each landing you walk away from is a good one. After all, every flight ends with a landing; it’s just that some are more successful than others. Up to 30% of accidents are caused by improper preparation or lack of equipment knowledge.
Weather is another huge factor in accidents. Weather is not an exact science and can change rapidly when flying in areas such as mountains, deserts and islands. Most accidents occur when the pilot travels too low to avoid the weather above, but the fact is, sometimes the bad weather gets lower still. That’s what the expert’s believe happened to the California family in Panama, their airplane hit a tree. Obviously, they were not at the appropriate altitude for that area, but they had flown well-below the stated altitude.
If all of this sounds like pilot error problems—you’re right! Between 70% -80% of general aviation accidents are caused by human error. There is no substitution for good training, knowledge of your aircraft and flying experience.
If you or your family has been injured in an aircraft accident, please don’t hesitate to contact a professional personal injury attorney.