An aircraft accident is an unforeseen occurrence in connection with the operation of an aircraft that results in personal injury or property damage.
Definition of the EU
The internationally coordinated and binding definitions of ICAO Annex 13 were issued on December 2, 2010 as a binding regulation for the EU (Regulation (EU) 996/2010 of October 20, 2010) and adopted almost word for word in Austrian and Swiss law. In Germany, the term is defined in the Aircraft Accident Investigation Act.
“'Accident' is an event in the operation of an aircraft which, in the case of a manned aircraft, occurs between the time when persons with the intention to fly are boarded and the time when all these persons have left the aircraft, or in the case of an unmanned aircraft between the time at which the aircraft is ready to move for the purpose of flight, and the time at which it comes to rest upon completion of the flight and the primary propulsion system is switched off, occurs at which
a) a person was fatally or seriously injured by
- Presence on board the aircraft or
- direct contact with the aircraft or one of its parts, including parts that have become detached from the aircraft, or
- direct impact of the aircraft's turbine jet,
- unless the injuries have a natural cause, were inflicted on the injured party by themselves or by another person, or the injuries are caused by unauthorized persons who are hidden outside of the rooms normally accessible to passengers and crew members , or
b) the aircraft has suffered damage or structural failure and the structural integrity of the aircraft cell, the flight performance or flight characteristics of the aircraft are impaired as a result and the repair of this damage would generally require a major repair or replacement of the damaged aircraft component, unless that after an engine failure or engine damage, the damage to the aircraft affects an individual engine (including its fairing or its accessories), propellers, wing tips, radio antennas, probes, baffles, tires, brakes, wheels, sheeting, panels, landing gear flaps, windscreens or outer skin ( such as small dents or holes), or is limited to minor damage to the main rotor blades, tail rotor blades or landing gear, or damage caused by hail or bird strikes (including holes in the radome), or
c) the aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible [...] "
Aircraft Accident Investigation Act in Germany
In Germany, the legal definitions are contained in theand in the .
An accident within the meaning of § 2 FlUUG is an event during the operation of an aircraft from the beginning of the boarding of persons with the intention to fly until the point in time at which these persons have left the aircraft again if:
- a person has been fatally or seriously injured
- on board an aircraft or
- through direct contact with the aircraft or one of its parts, even if this part has become detached from the aircraft, or
- by direct action of the turbine or propeller jet of an aircraft,
- unless the injured party inflicted these injuries on himself or they were inflicted on him by another person or have any other cause independent of the accident, or the injuries to unauthorized persons who are outside the scope of the accident are involved Hid normally accessible spaces for passengers and crew members,
- the aircraft or the airframe has suffered damage and
- thereby the strength association of the aircraft cell, the flight performance or the flight characteristics are impaired and
- repairing this damage would usually require major repairs or replacement of the damaged aircraft component;
- unless, after an engine damage or engine failure, the damage to the aircraft is limited to the affected engine, its fairing or its accessories, or the damage to an aircraft is limited to damage to propellers, wing tips , radio antennas , tires , brakes , Planking or small dents or holes in the outer skin,
- the aircraft is missing or inaccessible.
Serious injuries are those that a person has suffered in an accident that:
- requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours within 7 days of the injury, or
- Results in fractures (with the exception of simple fractures of fingers , toes, or the nose ) or
- Lacerated wounds with severe bleeding or injuries to the nerve , muscle or tendon cords or
- Has caused damage to internal organs or
- Results in second- or third-degree burns or more than five percent of the body surface or
- Is the result of a proven exposure to infectious substances or harmful radiation .
Those injuries are counted as fatal if the death of a person involved occurs within 30 days of the accident as a consequence of the accident.
Of air accidents are disorders distinguished:
- In this context, a disruption is an event other than an accident that is related to the operation of an aircraft and that affects or could affect safe operation.
- A serious incident is an occurrence in the operation of an aircraft, the circumstances of which suggest that an accident nearly occurred.
The faults listed below are typical examples of severe faults. However, the list is not exhaustive and only serves as a guide for the definition of the term “severe incidents”.
- Near collision / dangerous encounter: dangerous approach of two aircraft in which at least one aircraft was operated under instrument flight rules and an evasive maneuver was necessary or would have been appropriate to avoid a collision or dangerous situation;
- only just avoided, unwanted ground contact (CFIT) with an aircraft that has not got out of control;
- aborted start on a blocked or occupied runway or start from such a runway with a critical obstacle distance;
- Landing or attempting to land on a closed or occupied runway ;
- Disruption on the runway (runway incursion) : an aircraft, vehicle or person arrives without permission on a runway that is currently in use;
- significant undershooting of the predicted flight performance at take-off or in the initial climb;
- Fires or smoke in the passenger cabin or in the hold and engine fires, even if these fires have been extinguished with the help of extinguishing agents ;
- Circumstances forcing flight crew to use oxygen ;
- Structural failure of the airframe or engine dismantling that is not classified as an accident;
- multiple failures of one or more aircraft systems, seriously affecting the operation of the aircraft;
- any flight crew failure during the flight;
- any lack of fuel , in which the pilots had to declaration of an emergency
- Disruptions during take-off or landing; Disruptions such as touching down too early or too late, overshooting or sideways deviating from the runway;
- Failure of systems, meteorological phenomena, operation outside the permitted flight range or other events that could have caused difficulties in controlling the aircraft ;
- Failure of more than one system in a redundant system that is essential for flight control and navigation .
Differences in the use of the terms
- Event: The EU uses the term for the entirety of accidents and incidents (ICAO: occurence ). In Austria the term incident is used for this, in Switzerland the term incident .
- Incident: EASA uses the term for the term disruption used in Germany, Austria and Switzerland . Switzerland uses the term for the ICAO term occurence .
Aircraft accident investigation
In the event of an aircraft accident, two parallel examinations take place:
- Examination by the law enforcement authorities (public prosecutor / police) to determine whether there is any initial suspicion of the existence of criminal offenses. If this is answered in the affirmative, the law enforcement authorities are obliged to start their own criminal investigations in accordance with the principle of legality. In order to be able to establish or rule out an initial suspicion at all, specialized experts are usually called in in this specialist area, who support the investigating authorities in securing evidence at the scene of an accident.
- The investigations of the authority responsible for aircraft accident investigation. The responsibility of the investigating authorities is regulated in ICAO Article 26, Annex 13 ( Chicago Convention 1944 ). The aim of these investigations is to increase the safety of aviation. The investigation (s), independent of the law enforcement authorities, are not intended to establish fault, liability or claims.
Originally, the investigations were only carried out by law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement authorities have excluded those involved (manufacturers, authorities, etc.) from the investigations. That is why ICAO included this in Article 26 of the 1944 Chicago Convention. Article 26 obliges every state in whose territory an aircraft accident has occurred to conduct an investigation. Those countries in which the aircraft concerned were designed, built, certified or registered can take part in the investigation. The sole purpose of these investigations is to prevent aircraft accidents and thus improve flight safety. Details on the process of such an investigation are set out in Annex 13 of the agreement.
Initially, the aircraft accident investigations were often carried out by the supervisory authority. However, since a supervisory authority can be involved in the occurrence of an aircraft accident by issuing inappropriate regulations or by failing to perform its duties, a separation of powers makes sense here. The ICAO therefore recommended in the 1950s that air accidents be investigated by independent bodies.
In Germany, the separation of powers was carried out on September 1, 1998.
In order to implement the European directive into German law, the law on the investigation of accidents and incidents in the operation of civil aircraft (Flugunfall-Investungs-Gesetz - FlUUG) was created on August 26, 1998 and entered into force on September 1, 1998. The previous general administrative regulation for the technical investigation of aircraft accidents in the operation of aircraft has been replaced by this law.
The procedure can be illustrated using the example of a collision between two aircraft on a runway as follows:
- A Boeing 737 collides with an Airbus A320 on Runway 23L in Düsseldorf .
- After the emergency services (fire brigade, rescue service) have been alerted, the investigation center is notified and responsibilities are clarified.
- After the rescue measures, experts are sent to the accident site (Runway 23L).
- The scene of the accident is measured, photographed and documented.
- The two planes are carefully examined for traces, and if necessary they are dismantled at the scene of the accident.
- The flight recorders are taken from both aircraft (flight data recorder and voice recorder).
- In the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation , the seized traces of the accident and the flight recorders as well as other sources such as radio recordings or radar traces are evaluated.
The Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation has numerous methods at its disposal, depending on the circumstances, which cannot be presented exhaustively here. The size, deformation and distribution of debris provide information about the position, speed and direction of movement of the aircraft upon impact. Other methods range from surveys and the review of maintenance documents to material science examinations (e.g. evidence of material fatigue or faulty welded or glued joints). Therefore, the investigation can take a year or more. Even the analysis of the voice recorder can take months if an attempt has to be made to clearly determine the meaning and origin of background noise.
After completion of the investigations, the federal agency will prepare an investigation report that describes the accident and all the factors and publishes it on its website. This investigation report is freely accessible and serves only to prevent similar accidents. It may not be used for criminal prosecution or for claims under civil law (e.g. from insurance companies). He expressly does not assign guilt, but determines causes.
The examinations are always multi-layered. Based on the fictitious example, the following could result:
- Search for the immediate cause of the accident ( causality ):
- Why did the planes collide on a runway? → One of the aircraft has crossed the runway without having received clearance.
- Search for factors that favored or made the accident possible:
- Why did the crew not obtain or wait for approval? → The crew had already lost a lot of time due to technical problems, it was their last flight before the vacation, and the psychological pressure made them reluctant to accept any further delay.
- Finding solutions to prevent further similar accidents:
- How can such psychological pressure be minimized in the future? → The investigating body recommends that the Federal Aviation Office prescribe training programs for the airlines in order to improve the handling of psychological pressure, or to design the operational plans with longer time buffers.
The independent legal clarification is the responsibility of experts from the criminal investigation authority. You are preparing an opinion that is not freely available to the public. On the basis of this expert opinion, the public prosecutor's office will check whether there is any initial suspicion and, if necessary, bring charges.
- ICAO regulations
Under ICAO rules - they apply at least for international flights - the country on whose territory the accident occurred must investigate the accident. If the accident took place over international waters (e.g. Air France flight 447 ), investigate the country in which the aircraft was registered. The same applies if the location of the accident cannot be determined. Each country can, by mutual agreement, transfer the investigation to another country. This is the case, for example, if a country lacks the necessary technical expertise ( e.g. Egypt Air flight 990 ). In the case of sensitive political circumstances, the investigation can also be delegated to the ICAO (this has happened four times so far, e.g. Korean Air Lines flight 007 ) or it can be carried out jointly by two countries ( plane crash in Smolensk ). The countries in which the aircraft or its engines were built send technical experts. Countries whose citizens have died can send observers.
The investigating authority publishes a preliminary report one month after the accident. The final report is published one year after the accident. If this is not possible, an interim report is published every year.
Aircraft accident investigation agencies
The Federal Office for Aircraft Accident Investigation was set up as the responsible German authority in accordance with . According to , the purpose of the investigation is, possible, to clarify the causes, with the aim of preventing future accidents and disruptions, and the investigations do not serve to determine fault, liability or claims:
“(1) Accidents and incidents are subject to an investigation with the sole purpose of clarifying the causes, if possible, with the aim of preventing future accidents and incidents. [...]
(2) The investigations do not serve to determine fault, liability or claims. "
The law enforcement authority (public prosecutor / police) investigates parallel to the Federal Aircraft Accident Investigation Agency, but is not an investigative agency. If necessary , it commissions aviation experts to check whether there is any initial suspicion .
Accidents that predominantly affect military matters are investigated by the General Aviation Safety Department of the Bundeswehr in the Bundeswehr Aviation Office based in the Wahn air force barracks .
In the Federal Office for Transport is moved department VERSA (road safety work in Austria) is in accordance with the responsible for receiving and investigating incidents and accidents in the Austrian air transport.
Other states (excerpt)
- Air Accidents Investigation Branch (UK)
- Air Accident Investigation Unit (Ireland)
- Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo (Italy)
- Australian Transport Safety Bureau (Australia)
- Korean Aviation-Accident Investigation Board (South Korea)
- National Transportation Safety Board (USA)
- Państwowa Komisja Badania Wypadków Lotnicznych (Poland, private aviation) and Komisja Badania Wypadków Lotniczych Lotnictwa Państwowego (Poland, state / military aviation)
- Transportation Safety Board of Canada / Bureau de la sécurité des transports du Canada (Canada)
Types of aviation accidents
- Crash : An aircraft that can no longer be controlled (e.g. due to severe damage) hits the ground.
- CFIT ( Controlled Flight Into Terrain ): A fully controllable aircraft collides with the ground, for example as a result of a navigation error.
- Airplane collision in the air : (English: Mid-air Collision ) Two airplanes collide in the air, or a bird collides with the airplane with serious consequences ( bird strike ).
- Take-off accident: When taking off , the aircraft comes off the runway , rolls over the end of the runway or crashes shortly after take-off. About 20% of accidents happen at the start.
- Landing accident: When landing, the aircraft touches down in front of the runway, misses the runway, comes off of it, rolls over the end of the runway or touches down too hard. About 50% of accidents happen during landings.
- Aircraft collision on the ground: Two aircraft collide on take-off or landing on an airfield. This type of accident is very rare, but it became particularly well known due to the plane disaster in Tenerife . This type of accident also includes the much more frequent collisions while rolling.
Road mortality and accident frequency
Measured against the very high, continuously increasing number of flights worldwide and a transport performance in the passenger sector alone of more than two billion people per year, aircraft accidents with personal injury are extremely rare occurrences in civil aviation.
According to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) in 2001/2002, the expected mortality rate in aircraft accidents was 15 deaths per 100 million passenger flight hours.
According to the non-governmental organization Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives (B3A) (formerly Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO) ), founded in 1990 and based in Geneva , the following statistical data are available for air traffic accidents involving aircraft that can carry more than six passengers, with the exception of helicopters and balloons and fighter jets (only crashes in which the aircraft was damaged and therefore not taken into service are taken into account. The data may therefore be higher than other statistics for incidents and fatalities):
List of accidents and fatalities per year
Most frequently mentioned accident factors in aviation 2002–2011
|Accident factor||proportion of|
|Perception and decision making - omissions and errors||28%|
|Aviation skills - poor control when cruising||28%|
|Poor judgment or airmanship||24%|
|Lack of situational awareness||22%|
|Missing crew resource management (CRM)||21%|
|Perception and decision making - hasty actions||10%|
|Design and ergonomic flaws||9%|
|Fire and smoke after crash||8th %|
|Perception and decision-making - poor control on approach||7%|
Multiple choices possible.
Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority , CAP 1036, Global Fatal Accident Report, 2002 to 2011
In addition to disrupting air traffic, air accidents have a direct impact on airlines. A number of companies have already had to file for bankruptcy after high pain and suffering payments if culpability was proven, and the reputation of society often suffers. Examples: British Airtours (1985), Adam Air (2008) and Pan Am (1991).
Aircraft accidents can even result in the operation of an aircraft type being temporarily or completely prohibited and all aircraft affected being temporarily banned from flying. Examples of this were the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 as a result of the accident on American Airlines flight 191 in 1979 , the Concorde after the Air France accident in 2000 and the Boeing 737 MAX in 2019 after the crash of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 due to problems with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
- List of mid-air aircraft collisions
- Lists of aircraft accidents (commercial aircraft)
- List of the most serious aviation accidents in Germany
- fear of flying
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