Aircraft accidents and crashes, while extremely rare, are always tragic occurrences. While weather, damaged hardware, and other such conditions may lead to an accident, one of the most common causes is due to human error. By thoroughly understanding and analyzing the causes of human error and its relation to aviation accidents, the industry can better improve upon the safety of flight. Through such endeavors, the risk of accidents in aviation has been steadily declining, and the United States has seen fewer average fatal crashes by the year. Despite this, crashes due to human error still occur, and thus should be well understood.
In the realm of aviation, “general aviation” is used to denote aircraft that travel for either private or commercial applications. As compared to purely commercial flights, general aviation tends to prove more risky with higher amounts of accidents. Nevertheless, the safety of general aviation has been steadily improving over the years due to a constant increase in more robust flight systems, stricter aviation laws, and more well-trained pilots. Despite this, accidents still do happen regardless of their rarity in countries such as the United States, and thus the industry needs to continue its efforts to minimize the risk of such occurrences.
Generally speaking, crashes due to human error are not always centered around the pilot. Whether caused by a aircraft maintenance worker, mechanic, or even an air traffic controller, human error encompasses any error made by someone that causes an aircraft to have an accident. According to companies such as Boeing, 80-90% of crashes are caused by human error, leading many to invest in varying ways to improve upon such incidents.
When speaking about accidents that are caused by the pilots themselves, such incidents are referred to as a pilot error. Typically, such errors can range from tactical errors to operational errors, those being mistakes in decision-making and mistakes that stem from a lack of training respectively. Due to the immense complexity of aircraft and the sheer amount of instruments that are present in the cockpit, pilots are constantly forced to make quick decisions throughout a flight operation. As such, a distracted pilot or one that is highly untrained can make a mistake that could result in an accident. To avoid such instances, pilots should always be certified for flight, be well-prepared to undertake an operation, and be ready for any incident which will require their full attention and abilities.
As discussed beforehand, human errors that result in aircraft accidents can also include other individuals besides the pilot. Across all accidents, some may occur due to mechanical failures and maintenance issues that may stem from the work conducted by aircraft mechanics. For a typical aircraft to be considered airworthy and safe to fly, they must follow rigorous schedules for maintenance, inspection, and overhaul. As an aircraft is used more frequently, it will also have to be maintained more often due to a quicker loss in part integrity. As maintenance, repair, and overhaul procedures ensure that any fault part is removed and replaced, broken parts are repaired, and other issues are attended to, it is crucial that such operations are conducted by reputable and reliable entities. Furthermore, faulty parts may also be the cause of poor manufacturing and part reliability, making it important that there is optimal oversight during the production phase of aircraft as well.
As the last major cause of accidents due to human error, automation can prove dangerous if not used correctly. With the constant evolution of aircraft parts and systems, more robust technologies have steadily been implemented in aircraft to increase their safety, efficiency, and more. Despite their ability to ease the process of flight, automation systems are not perfect in their operation and capabilities. According to a study published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots who became overly reliant on the aircraft’s automated systems were more likely to have an accident as compared to those who didn't. As such, one could argue that there is a direct connection between the automation of flight and accidents. To ensure that automation does not cause hazards for flights, pilots should be well-trained on how to properly use them while maintaining their ability to fly without them. Nevertheless, aircraft automation systems are still great additions to aircraft that can highly increase the safety of flight if used correctly by pilots.
Despite human error sometimes leading to aviation accidents, such incidents are not proof that human pilots are the problem in which automation is the only answer. As has been seen in many near-accidents during the past, pilots have been the ones credited with saving the lives of passengers. In specific situations such as an engine fire occurring on a 2015 British Airways flight, the pilot quickly made the decision to abort the flight and safely brought the aircraft to the ground. Due to their quick decision and expertise in piloting, the pilot was able to save the lives of every single passenger on board.
By analyzing the various aspects of an accident through the use of a black box and other information, the aviation industry can continue to improve the safety of flight for the benefit of all. While accidents are still an issue that the industry thoroughly works to combat, such incidents have greatly decreased since the inception of flight. By having aviation officials, lawmakers, and private sectors work together, aviation safety can continue to advance in the future.
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