July 2018 Issue

Aviation Accident Data For Skeptics

No, numbers don’t lie. But that doesn’t mean they’ll answer the questions you thought you were asking.

An aircraft accident would seem like an easy thing to identify: Look for the smoking crater with a few pieces of empennage sticking out, right? Okay, that one probably qualifies. But the national statistics are derived from a very specific definition of “accident” that’s not based on either the event’s immediate effects on airworthiness or the projected cost of repairs. Airplanes can be and often are scrapped for damage that would cost more to fix than their hulls are worth but still doesn’t qualify as “substantial” enough to merit reporting. Conversely, damage that does qualify sometimes goes unnoticed by the pilots who inflicted it, only to be discovered on a later pre-flight inspection.

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