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Are You Safer on a Commercial Airline Flight or a Small Private Plane?

Do you feel safer on a small private plane or in a large commercial jet? Chances are most people are aware they are much safer in a large airplane than in a smaller aircraft operated by a private pilot.

Indeed, it’s a fact that pilots and passengers are more likely to die in this general aviation category than scheduled commercial airline flights.

Small private airplanes and helicopters are the most dangerous way to travel in the sky for many reasons including more mechanical failures, less experienced pilots and they are more susceptible to weather conditions.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, roughly 94 percent of all fatal aviation crashes in the United States in 2011 were in the general aviation category. This category includes all non-airline and non-military flights.

The most recent statistics for aviation crashes in the general aviation category are the lowest in history. There were 387 people killed in general-aviation crashes in the United States in 2013 and roughly 600 were injured in an estimated 1,222 crashes. That’s about three crashes per day in the United States, according to statistics by the National Transportation Safety Board. There were just two deaths on commercial aircraft crashes in that same year.

If you compare the number of deaths per 100,000 flight hours, however, the commercial airline death rate is far lower at 0.16 compared to 5.85 deaths for general aviation. Still these smaller aircraft are safer now than they were in previous years. This is the lowest death rate recorded for the general aviation category since World War II.

The commercial airline industry has also become safer in recent years, but not without the occasional disaster. One of the most recent commercial crashes here in California is the Asiana Airlines flight 214. The airline crashed on July 6, 2013 when its pilot struck a seawall on the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Three people died, 40 passengers, eight flight attendants and one of the flight crew members suffered serious injuries. Others suffered minor injuries.

That same year, a second commercial aircraft crashed and took the life of a crew member on a UPS Airlines flight that crashed in Birmingham, Alabama in 2013.

Prior to 2013, Colgan Air Flight 3407 on February 12, 2009, killed 50 people near Buffalo, New York.

These numbers are generally small in comparison to how many lives are lost in crashes in the general aviation category. The people who are typically at risk for injury or death in a general aviation crash are amateur pilots, police officers, emergency personnel, journalists and tourists in helicopters, farm workers who operate crop dusters and business people, celebrities, corporate executives and wealthy people in corporate jets.

Also, there are often victims who are injured or killed on the ground when these planes plummet from the sky.

That’s what happened earlier this month on July 4th, 2015. A 12-year-old boy suffered a head injury when the Piper PA18 apparently lost engine power and tried to land on the beach in Carlsbad. The aircraft hit the sand and flipped, clipping the boy. The pilot was not hurt in the crash.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon to hear about small aircraft accidents here in Southern California. There are numerous airports from San Diego to Los Angeles where these small aircraft may fly.

Indeed, there are 216 airports throughout California that are considered general aviation compared to just 27 that serve commercial airlines. In Southern California, some of the most popular airports that serve pilots in this category include Santa Monica Municipal Airport, Van Nuys Airport, Long Beach airport, John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Palm Springs International Airport, McClellan-Palomar Airport and Ontario International Airport.

Victims of general aviation accidents often involve celebrities, business executives and others who are rich and famous.

Sixteen years ago this month, John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister Lauren were all killed on July 16, 1999 when the small Piper Saratoga aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Kennedy apparently became disoriented during the nighttime flight and could not maintain control of the airplane.

This year, James Horner, 61, an American film composer died last month in a crash on June 22, 2015 in the Los Padres National Forest. Horner was piloting a 2-seater S-312 Tucano MK1 turbo-prop when the small plane crashed in Cuyana, California.

Liability for Aviation Accidents

Under the General Aviation Accident Liability Standards Act of 1993, Congress essentially limited claims by victims injured or killed in aviation accidents. The aviation manufacturing industry lobbied Congress heavily to get protection from claims by victims after crashes involving aircraft that is more than 18 years old.

Essentially, if you were injured or lost a loved one in an aviation accident in a aircraft that was more than 18 years old, which is the majority of all 220,000 working aircraft in the nation, you cannot bring a wrongful death or injury claim against the manufacturer of the parts or aircraft even if the crash was due to faulty or poorly designed aircraft.

Additionally, most people are not aware that many pilots do not carry liability insurance on their aircraft and those who do are more likely to have higher coverage on their automobile than their airplane.

Known Defects that Cause Aviation Accidents

According to a recent USA Today review of documents and lawsuits filed by victims, many accidents blamed on pilot errors may actually more correctly attributed to a slew of defects known to the airline industry to cause aircraft accidents.

One of those mechanical issues known to cause aircraft to crash is carburetor defects.

The USA Today review revealed several defects that specifically affect helicopters and contribute or cause them to crash. First, poorly-made fuel tanks on helicopters can rupture and ignite a blaze even after a low-impact survivable crash.

Indeed, pilots and passengers who survive an impact end up being badly burned or killed in these crashes when the helicopter explodes because of a ruptured fuel tank. Despite the invention of crash-resistant fuel tanks, many helicopters continue to operate with basic ones at a risk to both pilots and passengers. It all comes down to money. The safer fuel tanks are more expensive

Also, the blades of these helicopters have been known to separate from the mast and have cut into the tail of the aircraft.

Aviation manufacturers have doled out millions in compensation to victims of airline crashes involving these and other defects over the years, but yet these and other defective parts continue to cause accidents and loss of life.

The top 10 Causes of Fatal Aviation Accidents (2001-2011), according to the Federal Aviation Administration:

1. Loss of control inflight
2. Controlled flight into terrain
3. Failure of system components
4. Low altitude operations
5. Unknown or undetermined
6. Other
7. Fuel related
8. System component failure – non power plant
9. Midair collisions
10. Windshear or thunderstorms

People who are injured or have lost a loved one in an aviation accident may have a claim for compensation, but it may be difficult to attempt to make a claim without the assistance of an experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorney.

Johnson Attorneys Group’s attorneys may be able to assist you with a claim. Our law firm offers a free consultation to prospective clients at 800-235-6801. Call us today and find out how we can help you.

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