Preliminary airline accident statistics from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for 2013 are cause for optimism, as accident numbers and fatalities declined and the air transport industry is addressing key trouble areas with a host of safety initiatives.

Set for official publication in early April, the results will show a four-year low of 173 deaths in scheduled commercial aviation globally as a result of nine fatal accidents, a steady decrease from 626 deaths caused by 19 fatal accidents in 2010. In total there were 90 accidents of scheduled aircraft weighing more than 12,500 lb. in 2013, down from 99 in 2012, 118 in 2011 and 104 in 2010.

The relative distribution of the three main causes of fatal and non-fatal accidents—controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), loss of control in flight (LOC-I) and runway safety-related—have not changed substantially, although the share of runway and LOC-I accidents spiked in 2013 while CFIT accidents abated somewhat. It remains to be seen whether the changes are cyclical or indicative of deeper troubles as multiple efforts to counter LOC-I and runway safety are in full swing or ramping up.

In 2013, LOC-I was identified in only 3% of the accident totals, but it accounted for 33% of the fatal accidents and 60% of the fatalities, compared to 2%, 22% and 13%, respectively, for CFIT.

Historically, most loss-of-control situations are preceded by an “upset” in aircraft pitch or roll, and most of the upsets are caused by stalls, according to Jeff Schroeder, the FAA's chief scientific and technical adviser for flight simulation systems. In a review of 75 airline LOC-I accidents between 1992 and 2008, stalls led to 36% of the upsets, the highest factor after flight control issues, which caused 21% of the accidents.

Schroeder presented in January the results of studies that he had conducted in 2013 testing pilot responses to various stall scenarios in a Boeing 737-800 full-motion simulator (see page 37), work that will be part of the FAA's updated performance rules for simulators, expected out in preliminary form this summer.

The realization that pilots are not properly responding to stalls and upsets is at the root of a massive international undertaking to retool pilot training, an effort that went into overdrive after three airline crashes in 2009: Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y.; Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 near Amsterdam; and Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean about 500 nm from the Brazilian coast.

Based on a 2010 mandate from the U.S. Congress in response to the Colgan Air accident, the FAA in November 2012 finalized a pilot training rule that gives airlines until 2019 to begin teaching pilots to recover from upsets, stick-pusher activations (for aircraft that are equipped) and full stalls in a full-motion flight simulator at least every 24 months. Pilots today must practice “approach to stall” at least once per year, requiring a recovery at the first indication of a stall, in many cases signaled by a stick shaker device (see video accompanying following article). The agency issued new stall training guidance in 2012, noting that “a growing causal factor in LOC accidents is the pilot's inappropriate reaction to the first indication of a stall or stick-pusher event.”

The new training rule will also require that most simulators be upgraded with extended aerodynamics models to support stall training to an angle of attack 10 deg. past the stall break, although the FAA has not yet defined to what extent the devices will have to be modified in advance of the 2019 training deadline (see page 40).

The global community is following the FAA's lead as well, with recently approved guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that expands upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) in recurrent training and for a type rating, and recommends in-aircraft UPRT for a commercial pilot's license. The FAA stopped short of mandating in-aircraft training in its rule.

Accidents occurring on or near the runway continue to dominate aircraft-damage statistics in ICAO's 2013 preliminary data. They accounted for 62% of accidents and 6% of fatalities, up from 43% and 0.3%, respectively, in 2012. It is an area in which regulators, airframers and avionics makers are developing technology and offering training preventatives. Among runway safety events, excursions (“veer-offs” to the side of the runway and overruns) are by far the largest element. According to the International Air Transport Association, runway excursions accounted for 28% of the 594 commercial aviation accidents in 2004-09, resulting in 483 fatalities.

ICAO earlier this month launched a new runway safety implementation kit and is preparing a “GO-Team” program to establish “focused” teams at world airports. Airbus is now offering a runway protection overrun system as an option on many of its aircraft and says it has several “saves.” Boeing plans to begin offering its own branded preventative starting with the 737NG family next year (see page 42).

Bridging all three types of accidents will be an “effective pilot-monitoring” effort from a government and industry safety team that will recommend airlines voluntarily follow 20 best practices for monitoring of an aircraft's flight path (see page 40). NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, a key advocate for the program, says inadequate monitoring is a focus in the investigation of both the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash at San Francisco last July and UPS Flight 1534 crash at Birmingham, Ala., last August. The group's final report is due out by June.

Global Accidents*
Global Accidents* CFIT Accidents Runway Safety-Related Accidents LOC-I Accidents
Accidents Fatalities % All % Fatal % Fatalities % All % Fatal % Fatalities % All % Fatal % Fatalities
2010 104 626 3.3% 21.1% 32.2% 57.0% 26.3% 23.3% 5.0% 21.1% 27.6%
2011 118 372 1.6 12.5 24.4 44.8 0.0 0.0 3.2 25.0 29.5
2012 99 388 3.0 22.2 36.8 43.4 11.1 0.3 1.0 11.1 8.3
2013 90 173 2.0 22.0 13.0 62.0 22.0 6.0 3.0 33.0 60.0
Source: International Civil Aviation Organization preliminary data