The FAA recently released its most recent numbers for fatal accidents in Experimental Category aircraft, which includes amateur-built aircraft (E-AB), and the results are encouraging. That said, there are complicating circumstances. The FAA uses fatal accident numbers as a benchmark of the safety of the Experimental segment, and while the measure is not necessarily reflective of overall safety, a long downward trend is a big deal, and that’s what the FAA is seeing.
The number of fatal accidents, the EAA said in a press release, dropped to 44, of which 32 were in amateur-built aircraft. Sean Elliott, EAA’s VP of Advocacy and Outreach, called it “outstanding news,” but stressed the need for continued improvement, as the FAA continues to lower what it calls the “not-to-exceed” numbers.
EAA also pointed to the long-term improvement in the number of fatal Experimental accidents, pointing out that for the 2011 Fiscal year, there were 73 fatals, 51 of which were in E-AB. Elliott also pointed out that the decrease in Experimental Category fatal accidents “mirrors and, in some cases, exceeds the decline in overall general aviation fatal accidents over the past decade.”
At the same that the numbers seem encouraging, the 2020 Fiscal Year saw a big decrease in the number of hours flown throughout private aviation, of which the Experimental Category is a part. Some estimate that hours flown have declined by 30 percent decline since pandemic restrictions went into effect in March of 2020. So roughly half of the fiscal year saw accidents declining as flight hours were declining as well. Just what that means to the validity of the numbers is hard to say—the FAA’s not-to-exceed numbers didn’t change with the reduction in flight hours.
And it’s hard to know for sure what any one year’s accident numbers represent, though longer trends seem more reliable. Regardless, the focus on safety has to remain.
“While we are seeing already very small numbers, the continual emphasis on safety for all of us can never be overstated,” Elliott said. “This is a trend that must continue as we pursue ever-higher levels of safety. We must focus on training, safety enhancements, and good pilot skills to complement the ever-improving technology in today’s aircraft cockpits.”