Civil Aviation Deaths Rise in 2011

While commercial airlines in the U.S. escaped without a single fatality in 2011, deaths among smaller personal and chartered flights increased.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Friday said civil aviation accidents in the U.S. rose to 1,550 from 1,500 in 2010. Fatalities climbed to 485 from 469 the year earlier.

Yet, for the second year in a row, there were no fatal accidents involving commercial U.S. carriers such as Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and United Continental (NYSE:UAL), nor were there deaths for commuter and on-demand flights with stricter Federal Aviation regulations.

All of the fatalities last year were in general aviation and on-demand Part 135 operations, which includes charter flights, air taxis, air tours and air medical operations.

General aviation accidents, which continue to account for the greatest number of civil aviation accidents, reversed their downward trend over the last two years by increasing to 1,466 accidents in 2011 from 1,435.

However, fatal accidents fell to 263 from 267, causing fatalities to fall to 444 from 454. While the number of general aviation flight hours increased in 2011, the accident rate per flight hours decreased to 6.51 from 6.86.

Total accidents involving on-demand Part 135 operations climbed to 50 in 2011 from 31 in 2010, while fatal accidents rose to 16 from 6 and fatalities jumped to 41 from 17.

The accident rate per 100,000 flight hours experienced "the most dramatic rate increase among major U.S. civil aviation segments," according to the NTSB, rising to 1.50 in 2011 from 1.05 in 2010.

One high-profile accident in the U.S. last year involved two top-level executives from Greenhill & Co. (NYSE:GHL). Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, and Rakesh Chawla, 36, were aboard a private plane owned by Buckalew that crashed on an Interstate highway in New Jersey on Dec. 20.

Buckalew’s wife, Corinne, and their two children, Jackson and Meriweather, were also on the plane.

Earlier that year, a couple and their five children were killed when the small plane their father, Fred Teutenberg, 42, was piloting crashed in western Alabama as they were returning from a family reunion. Officials said the right engine on his Cessna C421 suddenly blew out.

In February of this year, Micron Technology (NYSE:MU) CEO Steve Appleton died when he was flying an experimental single-engine Lancair, which is typically used for personal use.