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Pilot Liability: Why Private Planes Have the Highest Crash Rate in Civil Aviation

Pilot Liability: Why Private Planes Have the Highest Crash Rate in Civil Aviation

Private planes have a substantially higher crash rate than that of commercial aviation. Why is this? A number of factors contribute to this statistic such as the safety of the planes, pilot skill, and looser regulations than those governing commercial pilots and planes. Private aircraft lack the safety and backup systems of their commercial counterparts.

For example, most private aircraft lack co-pilots who can help with pre-flight check lists and catch omissions and errors on the pilot’s part. Private aircraft generally have a single engine, unlike the redundant multiengine aircraft typical of commercial aviation. Private aircraft may use small airfields that lack the benefits of air traffic control towers.

Looser regulations that govern private pilots mean that they’re often less well-trained than commercial pilots. A private pilot can be certified to fly with fewer flight hours. This relative lack of experience increases human error related crashes. It likewise leaves the pilot less equipped to deal with bad weather and poor visibility situations.

Pilots without an instrument flight rating are particularly vulnerable. Sudden low visibility situations such as a low cloud cover, thick haze, and fog don’t always cooperate with the pilot’s flight plans. For example, John F. Kennedy, Jr became disoriented while flying in thick haze off Martha’s Vineyard in 1999. Without instrument flying proficiency, he had no references for orienting his plane. Because he couldn’t see the horizon through the haze, his inner ear played tricks with his sense of spatial orientation. This caused his plane to spiral down into the Atlantic ocean.

Private aircraft also tend to be less reliable on average than those used in commercial aviation. The above points aren’t meant to discourage private pilots. Rather, the intent is to increase awareness of the hazards private pilots and their passengers face. These hazards can result in severe consequences in the form of injury, death, and litigation.

Fly carefully, keep your skills honed, and ensure your plane is well maintained. In addition, responsible flying requires being prepared for consequences that go beyond physical injury such as litigation arising from an aircraft accident. Anyone affected by an accident can take you to court, and you must be prepared with sufficient pilot liability insurance. For information about pilot liability insurance and how it applies to your situation, contact us.