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Are Kit Airplanes Involved in More Crashes?

Thursday, December 01, 2016By Richard Alexander

It is often said that airplanes are the safest mode of travel. By the numbers, this is technically true. Even still, every so often, there is news of a horrific accident. While commercial airlines rarely crash, experimental “kit” airplanes suffer from a higher crash risk. How high is this risk? And what can be done about it?

It takes dedication and skill to want to build a complicated machine such as an airplane, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think. About 10 percent of the nation’s general aviation fleet are experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft. In straight numbers, this is about 33,000 aircraft nationwide.

Although E-AB aircraft make up a relatively small percentage of the total fleet, they are overrepresented in crashes. In fact, in 2011, these aircraft “accounted for approximately 15 percent of the total—and 21 percent of the fatal—U.S. general aviation (GA) accidents.” This is an accident rate described by some as “abysmal.”

Three of the top issues behind the safety record of E-AB aircraft are as follows:

  • engine malfunction, including total failure and loss of power;
  • pilot loss of control, most often in takeoff and climbout; and
  • relatively low training in flying E-AB aircraft.

After a review of relevant data, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made two sets of recommendations to improve the safety of kit-type airplanes.

The first set of recommendations was directed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These 12 suggestions reflected the FAA’s control over issues such as flight testing requirements, including requiring the submission of a flight test plan before testing E-AB aircraft, creating procedures to govern a functional test of the fuel system before flight testing, and providing incentives for flight test training very early on.

The second set of NTSB recommendations was directed to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). The NTSB provided four suggestions to this group, including developing standards for flight data recording in experimental aircraft, as well as providing incentives that would encourage training before taking to the sky.

That governmental agencies are actively studying how to improve the safety of kit planes is only mildly comforting. Too often, the agencies are not aggressive enough in implementing important safety standards, and it isn’t until after an accident occurs that they become involved. Then, it is too late to prevent tragedy.

If you or a loved one were injured in an aircraft accident, contact the team at Alexander Law Group, LLP at 888.777.1776 for a free case consultation today. We help our clients recover monetary compensation for their injuries and expenses.

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