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Good News for Business Aviation

In spite of a decline in flight operations last year due to the sluggish economy, the number of accidents involving U.S. operators of business turboprops and jets declined sharply in 2009 – welcome news for an industry hit hard by the recession. With 43 accidents in 2009, compared to 64 in 2008, last year saw a nearly 33 percent decline in accidents involving U.S. operators, according to data compiled and recently made available by Robert E. Breiling Associates of Boca Raton, FL.

The 2009 results for business jets were particularly striking. Business jets were involved in only seven accidents last year and just one fatal crash, which resulted in the death of both pilots. During 2008, that segment of the industry was involved in 23 total accidents and five fatal accidents, which means total business jet accidents declined a staggering 69 percent last year.

The 2008 figures are very close to the average number of business jet accidents and fatal accidents since 1999. Before last year, total accidents ranged from a low of 13 in 2000 to a high of 33 in 2005, with an average of 22.6 accidents annually during the period. The number of fatal business jet accidents has ranged from three in 2005 to a high of eight in 2003, averaging 5.1 annually from 2000 to 2008.

Turboprop operators also posted better numbers in 2009. Total accidents fell from 41 in 2008 to 36 in 2009. The number of fatal accidents involving U.S. business turboprop operators fell from 18 in 2008 to seven in 2009, a 61 percent decline.

Breiling believes that at least some of the decline in accidents may be attributable to lower exposure. Based on flight activity data he collects from the major business jet manufacturers, Breiling said U.S. business jet flights were off 19.1 percent in 2009, compared with 2008. Even so, the decline in accidents seems to be larger than would be expected from the nearly 20 percent drop in flight activity.

Breiling said 2009 was "one of the better years overall for business jets and turboprops," and noted that in the business jet segment "pilots are as well trained as the airline pilots. They're aware of what's causing the problems, and simulator training has improved the training capability," he added.

"It was a great year, there's no denying that," said James Burin, director of technical programs for the Flight Safety Foundation. Burin noted, however, the difficulty of attempting to draw broad conclusions from a single year's data, but he said the statistics are encouraging.

An examination of the data from the period 2005–2009 shows the trend line decreasing for business jet accidents. "No matter how you look at it, we know there are more [business jets] out there, and they're flying more. So I think it's pretty safe to say the [accident] rate is coming down," Burin said.

Burin added, "It's not too early to say [U.S. business jet operators] had a great year [in 2009]. That's a fact. To say that's going to continue, we'll wait and see what happens this year."

Delving Into the Numbers

Bob Breiling, a former Navy pilot who later flew for Pan American World Airways, has been compiling turbine business aviation accident data for decades. He has served on NBAA's Safety Committee and has made numerous presentations at safety seminars and conferences sponsored by the Association, Flight Safety Foundation and other organizations. Breiling was one of the speakers at NBAA's 10th Annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2010) from May 4 to 6 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Aircraft operators can obtain even greater insight into the industry's annual safety numbers by obtaining Breiling's Business Turbine Aircraft Accident Review, in which he details the circumstances of each accident during the preceding year, along with analysis and probable cause information from the National Transportation Safety Board. Also included is historical information and special reviews by make and model of aircraft so operators can compare various types of aircraft, examine the circumstances that resulted in accidents and assess what the problem was.

For more information about Breiling's Business Turbine Aircraft Accident Review or other safety data, contact Robert E. Breiling Associates, Inc. at (561) 338-6900 or

NBAA Safety Resources

NBAA provides a number of programs and services to encourage safer flight operations and mitigate risk, ranging from the NBAA Management Guide and the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), to co-sponsorship of Safety Standdown events. These programs help entrepreneurs and businesses using all sizes and types of aircraft to improve their procedures and processes, and they give pilots the ability to more objectively analyze their own levels of performance and professionalism.

Specifically, NBAA offers, in conjunction with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a series of Light Business Airplane seminars for business professionals who fly, an annual Single Pilot Safety Standdown, a Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar (offered jointly with the Flight Safety Foundation) and the Bombardier Safety Standdown (jointly hosted by Bombardier, NBAA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board).