While planes are mechanical, which means there can be hundreds of potential issues that can cause malfunctions, by and large, general aviation crashes for the most part result from a few familiar causes.
Here are the top 5 reasons for general aviation airplane accidents:
Stall/Spin resulting in loss of control at low altitudes continues to be the #1 pilot killer despite heightened training and awareness surrounding the issue over the last few years. We can’t seem to convince enough people to simply go around when they miss that base-to-final turn.
Weather. Specifically, a pilot who inadvertently strays into low visibility conditions who is not trained for it often proves fatal. An immediate 180 turn is required in those situations.
Overconfidence. Pilots especially new ones get in over their heads in high performance or unfamiliar aircraft types. Pilots should choose planes based on their skills rather than their wallet.
Fuel Starvation causes the most number of accidents from an engine quitting. Diligent preflight planning is the cure for this.
CFIT or controlled flight into terrain continues to happen in significant numbers although GPS based flight directors have put a dent in these types of mishaps,
There are entire books written about each one of the topics presented in this article so we won’t attempt to solve all these issues today. However, we can identify a few key takeaways:
Two-thirds of all GA accidents are as a result of an issue related to the top two causes above. Just focus on awareness of those and you will dramatically increase your safety.
Overconfidence has an easy cure. It took a lot of time and effort to become a pilot and you are in a special class indeed though as such you should understand that part of that feeling of “specialness” should be constrained by a healthy dose of humility. Someone once told me the moment you cross over the threshold of the kingdom of your own greatness is the moment you actually become a chump so be ready for the eventual kick in the a$$ that is likely to follow. The same goes in aviation – don’t believe your own hype as mechanical devices, physics, and weather will likely conspire to convince you otherwise.
A good preflight check will help with all these issues. Also, don’t forget about the mid-flight check. Are all the assumptions you made regarding your flight panning out exactly as you predicted? Probably not 95% of the time. The mid-flight check lets you make adjustments like making an earlier fuel stop because of stronger than expected headwinds.
Pilots are inherent risk-takers and flying will never be totally free of risk however if you take the time to prevent the top 5 you will improve your overall safety profile.