Homebuilts and Accidents
Accurate homebuilt safety figures not easy to find
IN LATE MARCH, a pilot flying a Lancair executed a good emergency
landing onto the beach near Hilton Head, South Carolina, after
losing a propeller and having oil splatter over the windshield,
blocking his view.
Unfortunately, a jogger wearing earbuds was running on
the beach where the aircraft landed. The jogger was struck and
killed. The oddity of the story made it national news, and the
Associated Press (AP) ran a story about an FAA safety advisory
regarding Lancair aircraft. That left two questions: If this
incident had occurred with a type-certificated aircraft, such as
a Cessna, Piper, or Cirrus, would it have been dismissed simply
as a tragic happenstance? Or, if the jogger had been 30 seconds
faster or slower, would this incident simply be a one-day local
story about a skilled pilot making a successful emergency
landing on the beach?
A tow boat floats offshore from the scene where a small plane made an emergency
landing on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on March 15, 2010, killing a jogger.
Such is often the fate, however, when the media cover
homebuilt aircraft. The AP story pointed to figures that claim the
homebuilt aircraft fatal accident rate is seven times higher than
factory-built aircraft. The AP did not contact EAA and attributed
the numbers to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety
EAA contacted the AP reporter immediately after the story
was posted and convinced the reporter to add text that said that
EAA disagrees with the numbers and believes the actual accident
rate is much lower.
Such articles are aggravating to pilots and EAA, as they can
create a misconception that homebuilts are unsafe aircraft.
Accurate analysis of the accident numbers helps focus on areas
The questions we should be asking are not whether
homebuilts have more accidents than factory-built aircraft, since
that game could be played all the way down the line…privately
flown piston-powered aircraft have more accidents than privately
flown turbine-powered aircraft; turbine-powered general aviation
aircraft have more accidents than airliners; and so on. Instead,
the questions to be asked are: Is there an excessive number of
homebuilt accidents? What can we as a homebuilt community do
to improve this situation?