NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


January 7, 2001

Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today released a safety study that examined the accident rates for aircraft used in certain government operations.
The Board called for improvements in gathering data essential for the monitoring of public aircraft safety.

The congressionally mandated Public Aircraft Study called for the Board to “conduct a study to compare the safety of public aircraft and civil aircraft” and to review safety statistics on aircraft operations since 1993. The Board reviewed accident statistics provided by the Federal Aviation Administration and the General Services Administration for the period 1996-1999. The Board determined accident rates for the period 1996-1999 rather than 1993-present due to the limitations of the FAA statistics available.

The NTSB calculated an accident rate of 3.66 per 100,000 flight hours for all public aircraft operations for the period 1996-1999. Federal public aircraft had an accident rate of 4.64 per 100,000 hours flown. Both of these rates were less than that of general aviation (GA) accidents (7.2 per 100,000 flight hours) but higher than air taxis (3.47) and scheduled Part 121 carriers (0.30).

Public use aircraft operations generally include law enforcement, low-level observation, aerial observation, firefighting, search and rescue, biological or geological resource management, and aeronautical research. Forty-nine percent of the public use flights hours were operated in rotorcraft compared to 1.6 percent of general aviation flight hours.

During the period of 1993-1999, on average, 43 public use aircraft accidents occurred each year, killing 21 people and injuring 28.

For the period 1993-2000, four states, California, Alaska, Florida and Texas, accounted for 46 percent of all public use aircraft accidents. These were also the top four states for GA accidents during the same period.

A higher proportion of fatal public use aircraft accidents involved in-flight collisions (46 percent for public aircraft versus 29 percent for general aviation).

On average, accident-involved public use aircraft pilots were more highly qualified than accident-involved GA accident pilots, holding more advanced flight certificate ratings, according to the data reviewed by the NTSB.

The scope and accuracy of the report were limited by statistical and sampling problems with the data provided by both the FAA and the GSA. Because of this, the NTSB made several safety recommendations to both of these agencies that call for greater accuracy and precision in the gathering and maintenance of flight activity statistics relevant to public use aircraft.

Those recommendations include:

A copy of the safety study is available on the Board’s website. Printed copies of the report can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service (800) 533-NTIS.

NTSB Media Contact:
Keith Holloway
(202) 314-6100



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.