July Was a Bad Month for U.S. Aviation Accidents

In July 2014, there were 34 fatal aviation accidents in the U.S, killing 50 people. This compares to 21 aviation accidents killing 39 people in July 2013.

This pattern is particularly disturbing because, just a few months ago, we were on course for a marked reduction in aviation accidents for the year. In the first quarter, fatal accidents declined from 52 to 33, and fatalities declined from 97 to 58 year-to-year. But since then, the history suggests 2014Q1 was an anomaly, made safe by pilots simply doing a lot less flying.

Fatal Accidents:
Fatalities:
Year:
Q1
Q2
Q3
Q4
Q1
Q2
Q3
Q4
2012
80
125
2013
52
63
62
50
97
98
106
90
2014
33
76
34
58
115
50

The increase in July may be random and not statistically significant, but if the increase indicates a growing problem, what is driving this change?

  • Is it worsening weather? Are we seeing more intense weather phenomena, perhaps related to climate change? Maybe. The North Captiva Island crash on 7/16/2014 appears to have been weather-related. But, on the other hand, this accident would not have happened had the pilot decided to NOT fly so close to (and possible even within) a thunderstorm.
  • Is it related to aviation events? Partially. There were three fatal accidents flying to the EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh (see 7/26/2014, 7/28/2014, & 7/31/2014). There was a midair collision in Idaho, apparently related to a back-country fly-in (see 7/7/2014).
  • Which particular sectors stand out for more accidents? There were three fatal accidents involving agricultural planes (see 7/1/2014, 7/18/2014, and 7/23/2014). Another HEMS multi-fatality happened during dark middle-of-night conditions (see 7/17/2014). But, the one sector that really increased was regular GA recreational flying, including both factory-built and experimental aircraft, typically killing one or two, most of whom were retirement-aged males.
  • Is it related to the economy and the cost of fuel? Possibly. Just like drivers/homeowners with automobiles, when money is tight, repairs are delayed and minor risks ignored until they become larger risks. It is also interesting to note that during the first two quarters of 2014, fatal accidents and total fatalities were substantially below 2013. A simple explanation might be costs are taking a big bite out of flying interest. It costs money to keep a plane ready to fly, so perhaps the pilots are delaying the start of their flying season until the weather warms up, and THEN getting out and flying more intensively. This may put them a bit out of practice.

It seems reasonable to expect that lack of pilot practice might increase accident rates. Not just physical practices like thorough pre-flight inspections, but also the critical mental practice of making the key decision: do I fly or do I wait?