The FAA reported 56 fatal accidents involving experimental aircraft for the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Of the 56 fatalities, 39 were in amateur-built aircraft. The number has remained under the historical average, even with the raise from 42 total accidents, 33 in amateur-built aircraft, in Sept. 2021. The Experimental Aircraft Association said that even with the slight increase, efforts are focused on enhancing safety in all experimental aircraft.
"The fatal accident totals, for both amateur-built and experimental aircraft overall, remain 30 to 35 percent below where they were just a decade ago, including when looking at the three-year rolling average on which the FAA bases its annual not-to-exceed number," Sean Elliott, EAA's VP of advocacy and safety, said. "While that's good news, we never want to see an annual increase in the totals. That's a reminder that we all must continue to work to make safety the top priority even with the small numbers we see each year."
The small bump coincides with the increase across all general aviation in the same period. Preliminary numbers have shown this correlates with an increase in logged flight hours from 2021 to 2022. The aviation industry has grown and continues to expand to a new market and demographic, with an increase in pilots as well as plane owners.
According to data from the FAA, the number of active pilots licenses' at the end of 2021, excluding student pilots, was 470,408, an increase of 1,346 from 2020. According to industry leaders, the average age of an aircraft buyer has dropped by nearly 20 years and many who were able to afford an aircraft before the pandemic have now moved into the market. With new buyers, there is an education process.
The EAA worked with the FAA and NTSB, joining the FAA General Aviation Joint Safety Committee, to get recommendations on reducing fatal accidents. The association has been given thousands of copies of the EAA Flight Test Manual to give to amateur-built aircraft owners. There has been an increase in the use of an additional safety pilot during flight testing. To ensure amateur-built aircraft owners' safety, regular safety webinars increase the knowledge on safety in the experimental aircraft category.
"EAA has been deeply involved in FAA's safety analysis teams for several years, and we consistently see that experimental aircraft accident causes are very similar to accident causes for all GA accidents," Elliott said. "It shows that the accidents overwhelmingly do not occur because a pilot is flying an amateur-built or experimental aircraft, but because of factors relating to pilot decision-making or flight procedures. Those are areas where EAA safety programs and resources can make a difference."