Factors that Contribute to Aviation Accidents
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Factors that Contribute to Aviation Accidents

Tuesday, May 01, 2018By Nina Shapirshteyn

Aviation accidents are relatively rare compared to accidents involving other means of transportation, such as cars and motorcycles. According to statistics, from 1959 through 2015, approximately 1,525 passenger jet airliner accidents occurred resulting in 29,165 on-board fatalities. While this may seem like a surprisingly large number, it is important to note that deaths from airplane crashes have consistently decreased over time. Indeed there were zero fatalities reported for commercial passenger jets in 2017. As a result, 2017 was declared the safest year on record for the aviation industry.

Despite the good news related to airplane travel last year, aviation accidents do occur on occasion and understanding the major causes of aviation accidents is critical to improving safety standards for air travel. In some cases, crashes are the result of a combination of these factors.

Pilot Error

Pilot error is believed to be responsible for more than 50 percent of airplane crashes. Airplanes are complicated machines and require regular oversight and management. Pilots are ultimately responsible for taking off and landing, reacting quickly to mechanical difficulties, and piloting the airplane through unpredictable situations, such as bad weather. Pilots must also handle a variety of other tasks including maintaining fuel levels and following instructions from air safety control.

Pilot error refers to any action or lack of action by the pilot that contributes to an accident. In general, there are two types of pilot errors: (i) tactical errors that result from the pilot’s decision-making and can be linked to factors such as fatigue or lack of experience and (ii) operational errors, which are attributed to lapses in training and judgment.

Mechanical Failure

Faulty equipment accounts for approximately 15-20 percent of aircraft crashes. This number has decreased drastically from earlier days of aviation when mechanical errors likely accounted for as many as 80 percent of crashes. Advanced features like improved backup systems and computer technology repeatedly “check” the pilot’s actions and decisions, which has significantly reduced the number of crashes due to mechanical failure. Even so, engine failures still occur and are the most prevalent type of equipment failure.

Poor Weather

Poor weather can be attributed to approximately 15 percent of aviation accidents. Certain weather situations can be particularly dangerous. Lighting can result in electrical malfunctioning or exploding fuel tanks. A pilot’s visibility can also be limited during takeoff and landing by strong winds and severe storms. In the crash of AirAsia flight QZ8501 on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore, thunderstorms with clouds above 50,000 feet were indicated in the region. The weather was determined to be a likely factor in the crash that killed all 162 people aboard.

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