Sport Flying: Safer Than Ever
By the Book
Pilots measure their flying experience in hours, which they record in a specially designed log book that can be found at any airport pilot shop or by shopping on the Web. A flight hour is recorded by a clocklike cockpit instrument called a Hobbs meter, which begins ticking when the engine starts running and stops when the engine stops.
Sport flying, that part of noncommercial, nonmilitary aviation that we do just for fun, is becoming safer every day. Gone is the era when flying an airplane was so risky that insurance companies wouldn’t even write a policy for a pilot. Improvements to navigation equipment and safety-conscious plane building continue to make flying one of the safest ways you can choose to get from point A to point B. Flying has become so safe, in fact, that some say the statistics favor flying over driving or boating. As far as sport aviation goes, I won’t go quite that far, but it may be true that airline flying is the safest means of transportation ever devised.
To demonstrate the improvement in flight safety, lets look at the numbers. Excluding airline statistics, military flying, and helicopters—in other words, looking only at fixed-wing general aviation—1997 (the latest year for which I have complete statistics) was the safest year ever. In 1997, there were 1,858 general aviation accidents, of which only 356 involved a fatality. That number might appear high, but it looks a whole lot better when you realize that general aviation pilots flew more than 25 million hours of cockpit time. It appears that better pilot training and superior technology is only going to improve on 1997’s record.
The 1997 figures also look very encouraging when you compare them to 1982, when 3,233 general aviation accidents occurred in the course of flying more than 29.6 million flight hours. That year, 591 ofthose flying accidents were fatal.
Ask a pilot if flying is safe, and he’ll probably say something glib like, “The most dangerous part of any flight is the drive to the airport.” The fact is that flying has its share of danger, just as driving does. If you run out of gas when you’re driving, safety is as close as the side of the road, whereas a pilot who is a mile or more above the ground must perform some very skilled flying if he’s going to land safely. By the same token, when you’re flying you’re not in danger of a drunk driver crossing the median and colliding with you.
Y es, there’s a certain amount of risk in flying. But if you decide that you have an irresistible passion for it, you can feel good about the fact that it’s getting safer to do it all the time.