Aviation accidents have been much in the news this last year, mainly because of high profile media attention on U.S. owned Boeing Corporation after the two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Despite the publicity, flying is still a lot safer than driving, or even using a bus, train or ferry (in the U.S. anyway – that may not be the same in Indonesia or Ethiopia!). The fact is that if a commercial flight ends in disaster, often hundreds of people are involved and many of them have no control at all over their fate. The possibility that hundreds of people in any one incident could be seriously or fatally injured is more likely than with any other form of transportation, hence the media attention.

So, what are the main causes of aviation accidents? Statistics can only be reliably be ascertained from data acquired here in the U.S., or at least that concern U.S. operated or manufactured airplanes. There have been several very well publicized crashes in other parts of the world, the cause of which have never completely been determined. The two Malaysian Airlines crashes, one in the Ukraine (MH17, July 2014) and the other somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean (flight MH 370, March 2014) are good examples of aviation accidents, the causes of which have not yet been fully answered or have been hotly contested.

In the U.S., crash investigation is largely the responsibility of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of regulating actual aircraft and airlines and takes on board crash investigation reports, especially if there is a trend that has become established which suggests that regulations should be changed.

Causes of Aviation Accidents

The five main causes of aviation accidents are:

  • pilot error;
  • error by other personnel such as ground staff;
  • mechanical and design faults;
  • exceptional weather or other natural causes;
  • sabotage or war.

By far the most common reason for aviation accidents is pilot error. According to the NTSB, pilot error accounts for just over 50% of all aviation accidents in this country or where the NTSB has carried out an investigation. Most of these accidents happen during take-off, while landing or at a relatively low height. If an accident is determined to be due to pilot error and there are injuries are fatalities, then either the pilot (of a small private plane) or the airline is likely to be the target of a personal injury claim.

About 8% of accidents are caused by other personnel. This could include air traffic controllers, mechanics or others. Air traffic controllers are under the control of the FAA through the Air Traffic Control System (ATC). In the event that an investigation blames actions by an air traffic controller or controllers, then this could lead to legal action being taken against the federal government.

20% of aviation accidents are caused by mechanical or design failure. The most recent Boeing Max 8 aircraft crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia are good examples of these. The U.S. manufacturer may be liable for many hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation by airlines and individual families if it is definitively proved that the crashes were due to software design faults.

Around 10% of accidents happen in bad weather, or other natural causes. In the U.S. typical causes include thunderstorms, tornados, ice and snowstorms. Only last month, Air Canada flight AC 33 between Vancouver and Sydney was forced to return due to injuries caused by extreme air turbulence. An investigation is necessary to clear the airline or pilots of negligence in these sorts of accidents.

Finally, 10% or so of accidents are caused by acts of sabotage or war. These accidents rarely occur in U.S.  airspace, although the fate of the four United Airlines and American Airlines aircraft hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists on September 11th 2011, still the most  deadly of any acts of aviation sabotage in human history, will never be forgotten.

Contact a dedicated aviation attorney in Nashville if injured in an aviation accident

If you, or a loved one, are injured during a flight and believe that the injuries could have been prevented, you should contact an experienced aviation attorney to discuss possible legal action. The Keith Williams Law group in Nashville, TN, has won several high profile cases filed against airlines due to their proven negligence. The Law Group office can be contacted at (615) 313-3999.