Safety Good News presentation at COPA Dinner @ Oshkosh 2014 - Pull early, pull often! - Safety and Training Programs - Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Safety Good News presentation at COPA Dinner @ Oshkosh 2014

During the COPA dinner at Oshkosh 2014, a brief safety talk highlighted the good news for COPA Pilots. All of the categories of accidents in Cirrus aircraft have gone down.

Here's an annotated version of that talk.

Sources: COPA compilation of Cirrus fatal accidents world-wide, confirmed with Air Safety team at Cirrus Aircraft; Estimate from Reliability Engineering at Cirrus Aircraft of 950,000 flying hours in 12 months for the fleet of 5,700 production aircraft based on Hobbs meter readings at warranty, service bulletins and parachute repacks.

At the time of the talk, July 30, 2014, there had been 4 fatal accidents in the past 365 days or 12 months (Chesterfield/St. Louis, MO; Bolingbroke, IL; Freeport, Bahamas; Mato Grasso, Brazil missing and presumed fatal). Consequently, the fatal accident rate was 0.42 Cirrus fatal accidents per 100,000 hours of flying time. 

As of posting this blog, the rate has dropped further to 3 fatal Cirrus accidents in 12 months. The fatal accident rate is now 0.32. 

There has not been a fatal accident in the US for eleven months, since September 25 (Bolingbroke, IL).

How does this compare to GA?

Sources: NTSB presentation at GA Safety Forum, June 2012; Cirrus accidents from NTSB accident database, searching for all investigations, Make = Cirrus, Category = Airplane, Amateur = No; Flying hours estimates from Reliability Engineering at Cirrus Aircraft

The NTSB publishes accident rates for all of General Aviation. This chart, presented in June 2012, shows that the all accident rate for all of GA has remained steady for a decade. What made national news was the realization that breaking down the accident rate by purpose of flying revealed an increase of 20 percent over the past 10 years when flying for personal reasons. Since most of the Cirrus fleet are not heavily involved in commercial, instructional or flying for business purposes, that increase in personal flying contrasts with the declining rate of Cirrus accidents -- all accidents, including fatal accidents, non-fatal accidents, incidents and CAPS saves.

The recent 3-year decline of Cirrus fatal accidents

Sources: COPA compilation of fatal Cirrus accidents world-wide each quarter; Flying hours estimates from Reliability Engineering at Cirrus Aircraft

Plotting the NTSB accident rates for all GA rate (thin green line) and the personal flying rate (thick green line, comparable with most of Cirrus flying activity), we can compare the one-year and three-year rates of Cirrus fatal accidents (blue and red lines respectively).

The Cirrus fleet is about 1/30 of the single-engine piston fleet registered in the US (5000 aircraft vs 150,000 aircraft) and increasing by 250 to 300 airplanes each year. Yet the rates are falling – a lot.

What about other types of investigations – non-fatal accidents and CAPS Saves?

NTSB investigations of all Cirrus accidents

Sources: NTSB aviation database with three queries for Accident + Fatal, Accident + Non-Fatal, Incident, then extracting investigations of known CAPS deployments, which might be either an accident or incident.

The NTSB accident database contains all of the investigations conducted by the NTSB, about 1500 each year. Most, but not all, Cirrus accidents are investigated by the NTSB, since some accidents in foreign locations of planes registered in foreign countries are investigated solely by those civil aviation agencies.

As of July 30, the NTSB database for 2014 shows zero incidents, zero fatal accidents, and only four non-fatal accidents, a major and significant decline. In contrast, the number of CAPS saves continues to increase over time. Interestingly, in 2014 year-to-date, an additional four CAPS saves occurred in foreign countries, but this is the NTSB data.

Trends in CAPS saves versus fatal accidents

Sources: COPA compilation of world-wide Cirrus fatal accidents and CAPS deployments with survivors, confirmed with Air Safety team at Cirrus Aircraft. Note: the NTSB database omits about 11 fatal Cirrus accidents in other countries (93 of 104), as well as some known survivable CAPS deployments.

This is a really good news slide. In 2014, year-to-date, only 1 fatal Cirrus accident worldwide. 2011 was a horrible year, with 16 fatal accidents, including 8 in just three months, even 3 in a 24-hour period. Of those 8 fatal accidents in the fall of 2011, five were in rental aircraft, flying clubs, or used aircraft without transition training for the pilots. 

The trend of CAPS saves has continued to increase, while the 2014 count of fatal accidents dropped to just 1 in the first 7 months of the year.

Looking at fatalities

Sources: COPA compilation of known fatal Cirrus accidents world-wide, confirmed with Air Safety team at Cirrus Aircraft

The best news comes from realizing that only one person has died while flying in a Cirrus aircraft in the first seven months of 2014.

From that horrible year in 2011, several initiatives came together to change the culture of safety in the Cirrus community. So, in 2014, we count only one fatality, which is the pilot in Brazil who was lost in the rain forest and presumed dead.

Those initiatives include

  • reforming pilot training presented at the SAFE Symposium in May 2011,
  • the CAPS Consider keynote talk in July 2011,
  • the focus on training pilots about the CAPS system at October 2011, and then
  • the worldwide news interest in Dr. Dick McGlaughlin’s parachute save in the Bahamas in January 2012.
  • Those efforts aligned multiple agents towards a common message that training to use the parachute recovery system would save lives – COPA members, Cirrus Aircraft training staff, Cirrus standardized instructors, and the general public.

And it’s not just the parachute. It’s the high expectations we now have for COPA Pilots to fly safely.

We are not done yet. One pilot at a time. You can make the difference.


  • Rick

    thought you might want to contact this USA today reported so he can get his story straight...

    he reports that when the cirrus parachute has been deployed... that you actually lose more people than you  save?     who are their sources?

    Frank G

  • Frank, saw the video last evening and sent correction info to the WUSA9 news folks. Have not heard back. Don't know their source. But it sounded similar to comments frequently made by misinformed skeptics of the Cirrus parachute system.