A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report shows a 13% increase in the number of U.S. civil aviation fatalities between 2017 and 2018. In 2017, there were 393 deaths, 46 more deaths than the year before. A majority of the deaths (381) were categorized under General Aviation, yet the rate of fatal accidents overall climbed to 1.029 per 100,000 flight hours. The rate in 2017 was 0.935. The 2018 civil aviation fatalities also included the first death of a passenger on a U.S. airline in nearly a decade.
“It is disappointing to see the fatal general aviation accident rate increase after two years with the rate below 1.0 per 100,000 flight hours,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. Although the fatal accident rate for Part 135 operations decreased in 2018, in recent years the NTSB has investigated some Part 135 accidents that had glaring safety deficiencies. “Aviators in both the general aviation and Part 135 communities need to renew their emphasis on building and sustaining a safety culture, and recipients of our safety recommendations in this area need to implement those life-saving recommendations.”
During the same time, the current administration has accelerated efforts to deregulate the industry within the U.S. The efforts have resulted in handing the industry unprecedented authority over safety regulations and oversight and sacrificing consumer safety. The deregulatory plan has placed excessive, unnecessary strain on federal agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), leaving them with limited funding to adequately implement and enforce safety standards intended to keep the traveling public safe.
“This latest report reinforces the turbulent and deadly turn U.S. aviation has taken over the last two years,” said Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section who focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. “We see that the result of an administration that has turned a blind eye to aviation traveler safety is not just isolated to the Boeing 737 MAX debacle. The administration has heightened efforts to deregulate the aviation industry and now we are reaping the tragic outcomes of such a misguided policy.”
The Boeing 737 MAX aircraft has been the most prominent aviation story of the year. It has been grounded worldwide after two deadly crashes, Lion Air flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 just five months later, claiming a total of 346 lives. The aircraft’s defective software, fundamentally unsafe design and a weakened regulatory framework in the U.S., which was used to approve the aircraft, has been under intense scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers and global regulators alike.
The U.S. also experienced the first passenger death aboard one of its commercial airlines in nearly a decade. In April 2018, Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother of two and Wells Fargo executive from Albuquerque, was partially pulled through the broken window and died as a result of an uncontained engine failure aboard Southwest flight 1380. A cracked fan blade detached and broke part of the engine casing on the Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG) aircraft. The fragment struck and broke a window, causing the flight to rapidly depressurize.
The NTSB recommendations based on the investigation of flight 1380 included ensuring the integrity of the aircraft’s engine encasement. Boeing has since said it will design a new engine covering and retrofit it on thousands of 737 NG passenger planes to prevent a re-occurrence of the deadly accident.
The fatal accident also finally prompted safety regulators to mandate a more effective process for identifying microscopic cracks earlier in engine components’ lives. The industry had begun incorporating the process after a similar, yet nonfatal, incident two years prior. It wasn’t until after the passenger’s death that the FAA required the more effective, modern inspection approach. NTSB investigators leaned heavily upon FAA regulators for failing to act more quickly, which could have prevented Riordan’s death.
Mike Andrews has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.