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Are small planes involved in more crashes? | Verify

We dug into the numbers to see how often general aviation aircraft are involved in accidents.

WASHINGTON — Aviation officials continue their investigation into a small plane that crashed into Montgomery County power lines Sunday, knocking out power to thousands. But how often do these kinds of small plane accidents happen? We asked the experts. Here's what we learned. 


Are small planes involved in more accidents than commercial planes?


National Transportation Safety Board accident data from 2000-2020

Charley Pereira, President of Transportation Safety & Security Consulting, Inc.


This is true.

Yes, small planes are involved in more accidents than commercial plane.


When talking about plane crashes, it's important to distinguish between commercial airliners and general aviation aircraft, like private, small planes. The recent crash in Gaithersburg involved a small plane. Another Gaithersburg crash back in June also involved a small plane. 

Our Verify researchers looked at data from the NTSB and spoke with transportation expert Charley Pereira to get an answer. 

For reference, the NTSB considers anything that results in substantial damage to the plane or serious injury to be an accident. They don't use the word crash. Still, we can verify it is true. Small planes are involved in more accidents.

"Statistically, yes, they do [happen] quite a bit more frequently," Pereira said. 

For example, in 2019, there were 1,220 accidents, 233 of which were deadly. Commercial planes had 40 accidents in 2019, two of which included fatalities.

We also looked at accident rates from NTSB data. In 2019, the accident rate for a commercial plane was 0.2 accidents for every 100,000 hours flown. For a private plane, it's more than 25 times higher at 5.6 accidents for every 100,000 hours. 

"In general, it's an experience thing, and a regulatory oversight and requirements thing," Pereira said. "On the maintenance side, on general aviation, your maintenance requirements are far, far lower."

That said, according to a spokesperson for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, "General aviation has experienced one of the safest years on record, according to NTSB data."

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