Small Plane Safety

Monday, November 6th 2006, 10:39 am
By: News On 6

Three people died in a small plane crashed in Arkansas on Sunday. Just last month, four people died in a small plane crash in Antlers, Oklahoma.

With all these accidents hitting so close to home, News on 6 anchor Scott Thompson wanted to find just how risky it is to fly in a small plane.

The Cessna that crashed in Antlers is same model aircraft that crashed in an Osage County field, Sunday morning. Investigators are still working to determine exactly what brought the plane down.

Aviation experts say there are safeguards in place to make sure tragedies like this don't happen, "a pilot lives and breathes by their checklist," said flight instructor Bill Wyman.

Aircraft manufacturers distribute safety check lists with every plane. The Chief Flight Instructor at Spartan School of Aeronautics says he never leaves the ground without a checkmark by every suggestion. "A pilot knows his airplane but to back that up you have a written check list," Wyman said. "You check all your instruments, you check your engine, make sure it's running correctly"

Wyman says pilot experience and aircraft maintenance are the biggest factors in flight safety. He says sometimes those who aren't as comfortable behind the controls rely less on what they're taught, and more on their instincts. That’s when pilots fly into trouble.

But, he claims it doesn't matter if you're in a small plane or a big one, the risks are still the same. "As long as the pilot doesn't exceed the limitations of the airplane a bigger airplane is no safer than a little airplane," said Wyman.

As for the question of safety in the skies, it's definitely gotten better through the years.

In 1982 there were over 3,000 US aviation accidents, and almost every year that number has gone down. In 2005 there were just over 1,500. Almost 2,000 people were killed in aircraft accidents in 1982. Compare that to only 562 in 2005.

The pilot we talked to also told us experience can sometimes be a downfall. He says the OSU plane crash is just one example. In that case the pilot was very experienced, but he was so comfortable flying, he may not have gone through his checklist as thoroughly.

Wyman says two causes of that crash could have been detected with a pre-flight inspection.