After suffering an average of 3.4 commercial air transport fatal accidents per year from 2001 through 2010, member states of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) saw just one fatal accident in each of the past two years involving European-operated airplanes of more than 2,250 kg (4,960 lb) maximum takeoff mass (MTOM), according to the recently released EASA Annual Safety Review 2012 (Table 1). The total number of commercial air transport (CAT) airplane accidents per year, however, increased from an average of 25.2 annually during the 2001–2010 period, to 30 accidents in 2011 and 34 in 2012, according to the report, which defines EASA member states (EASA MS) as the 27 European Union member states plus Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Onboard fatalities declined from an average of 77.8 per year in 2001–2010 to six in 2011 and none last year as 2012’s lone fatality occurred when a ground operator got trapped between an aircraft baggage door and a baggage loader during the boarding of an Airbus A320 at Rome Fiumicino Airport, EASA said. There were no ground fatalities involving CAT airplanes in 2011. The annual average for the 2001–2010 period was 0.8, according to the report.
Looking back over the past decade, 2003–2012, the most common type of accident among CAT airplanes was what EASA called “abnormal runway contact,” which includes long, fast or hard landings and scraping of wing or tail during takeoff or landing.
The fatal accident rate for EASA MS operators has remained at the same level for the past three years, and is below the rate for non-EASA operators (Figure 1). The number of fatal accidents among EASA MS operators also has held steady at a low rate (Figure 2).
The most common type of fatal accident for EASA MS operators during the 2003–2012 period was loss of control–in flight (LOC–I), “which involves the momentary or total loss of control of the aircraft by the flight crew. This might be the result of reduced aircraft performance or because the aircraft was flown outside its capabilities for control,” according to the EASA report. There were seven fatal LOC–I accidents involving EASA MS operators during the 2003–2012 period. During the same period, there were three fatal accidents in each of the following categories: system/component failure–non-powerplant (SCF–NP), system/component failure–powerplant (SCF–PP), unknown, fire/smoke–post impact (F-POST) and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
Accident categories are assigned based on the definitions of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team/International Civil Aviation Organization Common Taxonomy Team, and an accident may have more than one category, “depending on the circumstances contributing to the accident,” EASA said.
EASA also categorizes accidents based on the MTOM of the aircraft. Most CAT turbine-powered airplanes fall into the 27,001 kg to 272,200 kg MTOM range, EASA said, while smaller jets and most turboprops are found in the 5,701 kg to 27,000 kg range, and light turboprops generally are found in the 2,251 kg to 5,700 kg range. CAT airplanes in the 5,701 kg to 27,000 kg range accounted for 42 percent of the 19 fatal accidents suffered by EASA MS operators during the 2003–2012 period. The MTOM category for the largest airplanes accounted for 37 percent of the fatal accidents during the period, and the smallest MTOM airplanes accounted for 21 percent.
Among EASA MS–operated CAT helicopters, there were two fatal accidents in 2012, down from three in 2011, and an average of 3.3 per year in the 2001–2010 period (Table 1). The number of CAT helicopter accidents last year increased to 11 from nine the previous year. The 10-year average was 13.2 per year, according to the report. Onboard fatalities in 2012 declined more than 50 percent to eight, down from 19 in 2011 and from an annual average of 17.6 in 2001–2010.
During the 2003–2012 period, there were 20 fatal accidents involving EASA MS–operated helicopters with an MTOM of more than 2,250 kg. The worst year during the period was 2006, when there were five fatal accidents. Last year and in 2010, there were none. Looking at all the MTOM categories, there were no injuries in 44 percent of the EASA MS–operated CAT helicopter accidents during the period (Figure 3, p. 45). Minor or serious injuries occurred in 31 percent of the accidents, and there was at least one fatality in 25 percent of the accidents, EASA said.
The most common type of CAT helicopter accident during 2003–2012 was LOC–I, followed by SCF–NP, SCF–PP, and collision with obstacles during takeoff and landing, which includes all accidents during takeoff and landing in which the main or tail rotor collided with objects on the ground. The highest number of fatal accidents was attributed to LOC–I and CFIT, followed by low-altitude operations.
When looking at type of operation for EASA MS–operated CAT helicopters in all mass categories for the 2003–2012 period, conventional passenger operations had the most accidents, followed closely by helicopter emergency medical services. Other types of operations analyzed by EASA included air taxi, ferry/positioning, sightseeing, cargo and unknown (Figure 4).
Helicopters often are flown in offshore operations. According to EASA figures, 10 percent of fatal accidents in 2003–2012 in all MTOM categories occurred in offshore operations, but 21 percent of all fatalities occurred in those accidents (Figure 5). “In general, offshore operations are carried out with large helicopters, which, when an accident occurs, could give a larger number of casualties,” EASA said. The agency calculated that the ratio of fatalities to fatal accidents is higher for offshore operations (8.67 fatalities per fatal accident) than for non-offshore operations (3.63 fatalities per fatal accident).
There were 918 accidents involving EASA MS–operated general aviation light aircraft, those below 2,250 kg MTOM, in 2012, which represents a decline of slightly more than 11 percent from the average total of 1,035.6 per year for the previous five-year period (2007–2011). The number of fatal accidents last year declined 7.5 percent to 133 from an average of 143.8 per year during the previous five years. The number of fatalities on board declined to 226 in 2012 from an average of 239 per year in 2011.
Included in the general aviation category of aircraft are balloons, dirigibles, airplanes, gliders, gyroplanes, helicopters, microlights, motorgliders and other.