Facts and Statistics about Airplane and Helicopter Accidents
The 2020 helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and others in California brought attention to the risks associated with aviation travel. Airplane and helicopter accidents are more common than most people realize because they are not all as tragic as these major events.
In terms of safety, the riskiest type of air travel is in a private plane, followed by helicopters. Commercial airline flights are the safest. Here are some other important statistics about aviation accidents:
- Commercial airline fatalities are rare and often as low as one per year.
- Fatalities related to civil flights are much more common and rising. There were 393 such fatalities in 2018.
- The rate of fatal accidents on civil or private airplane flights is one per 100,000 flight hours. For helicopter flights, the rate is 0.72 per 100,000.
- Helicopter fatalities have dropped by half in the past 20 years.
- Private helicopter flights have the highest risk of ending in fatalities.
Who Regulates Aviation Safety?
Aviation is inherently risky, but when airlines, pilots, and others follow safety guidelines risks are less. Several agencies are responsible for setting the rules, enforcing safety, and investigating when things go wrong:
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA is a federal agency that sets safety regulations for the airline industry. They set standards for flight operations and pilot conduct, and the manufacturing of aircraft and related equipment.
- Air Traffic Control. This is a communication system based on the ground at airports that directs air traffic to ensure safety and prevent crashes.
- Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). The TSA screens baggage and passengers to reduce safety risks on flights.
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB is responsible for investigating all transportation accidents, including those involving airplanes and helicopters. They also recommend safety regulations or changes based on investigations of accidents.
Aviation is also regulated by international laws when airplanes and helicopters travel through international waters or cross country borders.
Types of Airplane and Helicopter Accidents
The public often only hears about the most spectacular and tragic aviation accidents. These are usually crashes that result in multiple fatalities, but there are many other types of airplane and helicopter accidents that cause significant injuries:
- In-flight accidents, such as falls, shifting luggage, beverage cart incidents, and electrical accidents or fires
- A plane going off the runway
- A collision with another plane on the runway
- Accidents in airports or on the runway involving vehicles
- Employee accidents on planes or helicopters, in hangars, or in airports
Common Injuries from Airplane and Helicopter Accidents
A fatality is the worst-case scenario in an airplane or helicopter accident. A serious accident like a crash or collision is most likely to cause fatalities. Other injuries are possible and less severe accidents can cause several common issues:
- Head and brain injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Broken bones
- Burns caused by fires
- Burns or respiratory injuries from spilled chemicals or fuel
- Emotional trauma
What Causes Aviation Accidents?
The majority of aviation accidents are preventable. Safety measures take a lot of the risk out of air travel, and when they are ignored or followed incorrectly, people get hurt. These are some of the most common errors that lead to airplane and helicopter accidents:
- Pilot error. The pilot has a huge responsibility to keep passengers safe. Their mistakes and poor judgment can cause accidents.
- Operation errors. Also responsible for decisions that keep people safe, other workers can make mistakes that lead to accidents. These include air traffic control staff or runway staff responsible for directing traffic or refueling aircraft.
- Defective equipment. If a part on a plane or helicopter fails, it can trigger an accident no matter what the pilot does. This includes the instruments pilots use to operate aircraft.
- Improper maintenance. Maintenance crew and aircraft or airline owners may fail to maintain the crafts, runways, and other equipment, leading to mechanical failures and accidents.
- In-Flight errors. Staff can cause mistakes that lead to in-flight errors. For instance, if the flight attendant fails to secure a beverage cart, it can roll down the aisle and hurt someone.
Who is Liable in a Helicopter or Airplane Accident?
Some accidents are purely accidental, but many incidents involving airplanes and helicopters could have been prevented with better attention to safety. If you have been injured in an accident or you lost a loved one, you are probably looking for someone to blame.
You may want to sue for damages to cover the costs of medical care, emotional trauma, and funeral expenses. Who is liable depends on the situation, and it may be more than one person or group:
The owner of a private aircraft or airline has a high duty of care to passengers. They can be held liable for damages after an accident if you can prove they breached that duty through negligence or recklessness. For instance, if the owner did not provide adequate safety training or failed to maintain equipment that led to an accident, they may be liable.
The operator of the flight that led to injuries or fatalities may be liable if they made negligent errors before or during a flight. A pilot operating a helicopter or airplane under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an example of potential negligence.
You may be able to hold the manufacturer of an aircraft or part liable if their product proved faulty and caused the accident. Errors in design, manufacture, or distribution that lead to accidents and injuries can make them liable for damages.
Common carriers are commercial airlines, and they are held to a higher standard than private aircraft operators and owners. They are subject to strict FAA rules and potential fines and criminal charges. To sue a common carrier successfully requires expertise in all the applicable laws and regulations.
Airplane and helicopter accidents can be physically and emotionally damaging, sometimes even resulting in fatalities. If you have been a victim of such an accident, talk to an experienced lawyer about your legal options for recovering damages.