Occasionally, large commercial airplanes do crash. It makes big, worldwide headlines and there are reviews and investigations that try and figure out the answers for how and why they happen. In some cases, e.g. the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which probably crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean, there are still no clear answers to those questions.

The numbers of people affected by a large commercial airplane crash are considerable. Several hundred people die in a single bad crash and many more hundreds of family and friends are left bereaved. However, flying a commercial flight is still far and away safer than driving in your own car, or flying in a private, non commercial small plane.

In fact, flying in a small plane may be potentially more dangerous than driving. Safety standards for commercial airlines have increased dramatically over the last decade, with the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 disasters somewhat of an outlier. The accident rate for commercial flights is reported to have been reduced by a figure of over 80% in the last 12 years. The same unfortunately cannot be said for private and non-commercial flights.

A survey back in 2010 calculated that there were about 21 fatalities caused by aviation accidents in small planes for every 2 million hours of air time, compared to just over 1 fatality per 2 million hours of travel in a car. It may not feel like that when you are actually driving on one of North America’s congested, fast moving highways, but those are the figures and they put travel by small plane at just over 20 times as lethal as car travel! Interestingly the number of fatal aviation accidents happening in small planes has actually risen in the last decade after a drop of about 75% since the 1970s. But why?

Reasons for the small plane accident rate

Pilot error

The majority of private and small plane accidents are caused by pilot error. It’s similar to truck accidents, which are rarely blamed on truck design, truck maintenance or the weather, although all these may be factors in a minority of truck accidents. Most truck accidents are due to truck driver error. Pilots of small planes can be just as affected by fatigue, alcohol, drug taking, distracted flying and lack of training as truck drivers. The last factor is never the case with commercial airline pilots who go through a much more rigorous training, which is continually updated through the working lifetime of the pilot.

Design factors

Most small planes don’t have the safety features that commercial airplanes have. They don’t necessarily have the rigorous safety and maintenance procedures as commercial airplanes have. Not all small planes have more than one engine. This is critical if the engine shuts down or is incapacitated for some reason. Twin engine planes, whether jet or prop, always have a back up and pilots are trained to be able to fly with only a single engine.


Smaller planes are likely to be more adversely affected by extreme weather events such as thunderstorms and tornados. They lack the size and weight of commercial planes that can resist all but the most extreme atmospheric conditions. However, you can’t blame the weather for an accident. The pilot must make a decision based on good weather forecasting before a flight and make a judgment call on whether it is safe to proceed with a flight.

Aviation accidents – who is to blame?

It’s rare for a small plane accident to happen without serious injuries or casualties, but who is to blame? If you accept a ride in a small plane and it crashes, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the pilot, or maintenance crew of the plane, whoever is at fault. As with accidents on highways, accidents don’t just happen. There is always a reason why a plane crashes. Excluding design fault, planes crash because a pilot has made an error of judgment, e.g. decides to fly when the weather is unsuitable, or the pilot is not fit to fly or the plane has been badly maintained. If you, or a loved one, have been a victim of a small plane accident, you should contact a dedicated and experienced aviation accident attorney at Keith Williams Law Group in Nashville. You can contact Keith Williams at (615) 313-3999.