How dangerous is flying in a single-engine plane?

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  • How dangerous is flying in a single-engine plane? xpda

    Some people consider flying small planes very dangerous. Just how dangerous is it to fly in a light single-engine plane? For example, how does the fatality rate compare to driving a car, riding a motorcycle, etc.?

  • I get this question a lot from people who are apprehensive about flying with a private pilot. I'm afraid I won't be reducing these fears in any way. Let's review some general statistics during 2008. Note - these stats aren't specific to light or single engine aircraft:

    • NTSB reported there were 1.21 fatalities per 100,000 flight hours for private aircraft (Part 91 operators).

    • NHTSA reported there were 1.26 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled by automobile

    We can equate that to about 2 million hours (estimating an average speed of 50mph). This gives us 0.063 fatalities per 100,000 driving hours.

    Private aircraft have a fatality rate about 19 times greater than driving. It is also true that a majority of the accidents that occur are pilot error (71%) and could have been prevented.

    There are risks involved when taking to the sky as a private pilot and understanding these risks is part of the continual learning process. The key to safety is performing careful planning, keeping current and proficient, knowing when to cancel flights or turn around and not to exceed your capabilities or the capabilities of your aircraft.

  • Since Geoff took the devil's advocate position, I'll play cheerleader.

    If you look at the statistics another way, like AOPA does, you'll find that General Aviation has "about one-sixth as many accidents on a per-vehicle-mile basis" compared to driving.

    Or to put it another way I'm 6 times more likely to get in a car accident driving to the airport as I am doing an equivalent number of miles puttering around in the pattern (my drive isn't that far - it's only worth a few laps around the pattern).


    So now I've gone and left you with two essentially contradictory answers, both based on statistics from the same source, and both equally valid from a cold, unfeeling, numerical standpoint. But the answer isn't important.

    Geoff and I are both really making the same point:

    Each flight is as safe as the pilot wants to make it.

    The pilot comes up with a plan for the flight, gathers as much information as they can about the weather, the aircraft, the route, etc., and then assess the situation.
    They weigh the risks and determine whether or not the level of risk in making that flight is acceptable.

    The statistics are useful. Most pilots I know spend a lot of time thinking about them (mainly why they're so lousy, and how we can make them better), but as a passenger remember they lump in the professionals with the students, and the conscientious pilot doing a thorough preflight with the one who haphazardly kicks the tire as he's climbing in for a 500 mile trip as his first flight in 6 months.

    Which kind of pilot are you flying with?

  • Because I'm both a single engine pilot and motorcycle rider, the way I explain risk to new passengers is as follows:

    Daytime flight over non-mountainous terrain: Like riding a motorcycle with full gear.

    Daytime flight in instrument conditions or over mountainous terrain in clear air: Like riding a motorcycle with only a helmet.

    Night flight over non-mountainous terrain: Like riding a motorcycle with a helmet but no headlight.

    Night flight in instrument conditions over non-mountainous terrain: Like riding a motorcycle at night with a headlight but no helmet.

    Night flight in instrument conditions over mountainous terrain: Like riding a motorcycle at night with no helmet, in the rain, over the speed limit.

    Any flight in which the pilot says 'watch this sh*t' - Like riding a motorcycle at night with no helmet, over the speed limit, while drunk.

    Flying a single engine airplane is more dangerous than 'driving to the airport'.

Related questions and answers
  • Some people consider flying small planes very dangerous. Just how dangerous is it to fly in a light single-engine plane? For example, how does the fatality rate compare to driving a car, riding a motorcycle, etc.?

  • Watching the first episode of Dangerous Flights, a ferry pilot has aftermarket fuel tanks fitted inside the cabin of an old Merlin IIB: What are the regulatory requirements to be able to do this? / How can you get permission to fit extra tanks inside a plane? Is there anything that needs to be specially considered when designing the tanks and valves etc? Is this commonplace when ferry flying long-haul?

  • The Soloy Dual Pac apparently allows two engines to rotate one propeller -- here's a picture of it on an Otter: Is this recognised as a centreline thrust twin engine aircraft, a "standard" twin engine aircraft or just an aircraft with a single engine for FAA certification? What about for pilot licensing?

  • Typically, a pilot will have airplane insurance (or renter's insurance, if flying un-owned aircraft), car insurance, home insurance, life insurance and then for good measure purchase an "umbrella"-type insurance (usually up to $1MM). Have there been cases where this wasn't enough insurance, or the pilot thought he or she was insured but there was something unforeseen that rendered his insurance policies ineffective of shielding him or her from liability? This question is specific towards American pilots, in this case if would be for an "average" person, owning/flying a small single-engine

  • In Australia, aircraft approved for ASETPA operations are certain single-engine turbines allowed to be operated commercially under IFR. While I understand that the manufacturer is required to meet a series of requirement, I'm not so sure about whether the pilots in ASETPA operations need special training or approval. Is extra training and/or testing required, and if so, how extensive is it?

  • Are there any good resources that teach you how to identify jetliners from the ground? I'd love to see some great comparative photos of their silhouettes. Books or websites are both ok. For example, here's a plane that was flying over yesterday en-route to KSFO. I'm guessing it's a 747 or A380, but I can't easily guess from this angle.

  • I suspect most pilots have done it at least once: briefly experience zero g when flying a parabolic path. It's quite an experience (if your stomach can handle it). Question is: are there any risks involved in doing something like that? (I know, getting in an airplane by itself is a risk, but that's not the point) I could think of a few potential risks, but I'm not sure if they are real or not: Engine lubrication in single engine piston airplanes And if not properly executed: Risk of a stall, both in the pull up phase and in the "arc" phase Overstressing the airplane when pulling out

  • On an another question, an answer said: "You don't need an engine to fly as airplanes are designed to glide without it." I suspect this heavily depends on the type of the aircraft, so lets assume we are considering a small airplane. How far could an airplane glide? What governs the 'glideability' of the plane? Is it possible, for an airplane with an engine/engines, to leverage this to save fuel while flying, or are they too heavy/otherwise unable to do this?

  • Whenever I hear anyone talking about P-Factor, (whether it be single-engine left turning tendencies or multi-engine loss of directional control scenarios), someone always brings up the fact that the descending blade of a propeller generates more thrust than the ascending blade. I'm wondering why that's the case. What is P-Factor and why does it occur?

  • lower pressure and bang, plane is flying. Same explanation already back at school. See my other question: if the theory was right, why can planes fly inverted? So here's the follow up: why is this wrong theory so popular and still part of books? Wouldn't it make sense to teach students how a wing really works? I mean just look at any RC plane meeting - you'll be amazed what weird designs are capable of flying if there's enough engine power.

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