It looks and sounds good, but what do the numbers really mean.
Earlier this week, the AOPA Air Safety Institute released its Joseph T. Nall Report, which details the safety picture of the most recent year for which there is complete data. This year it was 2104, and the news is good. Accidents were down slightly and fatals as a percentage down even more, and both those things were true despite pilots around the country flying more than they did the year before. The Institute also released numbers for 2016, and those were encouraging, too, though if you look at them out of context, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. There were 991 fixed-wing GA accidents that year, of which there were 156 fatal accidents, with 322 fatalities (for non-commercial GA flying). The 156 fatal accidents represents the lowest number in GA since WWII, and the percentage of accidents that were fatal was also at a record low.
The takeaway from the report is that we are making progress. Improved technology, new perspectives and strategies for training, better weather forecasting and the widespread availability of weather data in the cockpit surely have all combined to make GA flying safer than it’s ever been.
But it’s not safe enough, and I’d argue that the biggest takeaway from every Nall Report is that fact, that there are too many accidents and too many fatal accidents. For every one of us pilots, it’s an annual wakeup call, and we’d be well advised to ask ourselves what steps we’re taking to make ourselves more proficient, better educated, wiser and more thoughtful pilots.
I believe our goal should be zero accidents, though I’m not naïve enough to believe that we’ll accomplish that goal in my lifetime. But I do believe that with continued innovation, education, training and focus, we can cut the number of accidents and fatalities in half over the next decade. This matters, because I never forget for a second that every one of those numbers of accident victims is a person with a family and friends and a purpose in life, and every improvement we make pays dividends to countless lives, even if we never know the names of those who never become part of the statistical analysis.