Reasons for accident rate

Someone said here that the accident rate for Cirri is no better than the GA fleet. Which is to say, it’s not impressive. I was thinking about why this is, and the thought occurred to me that there seems to be a universal truth about people (or maybe just pilots) that they will take any edge and push themselves that much farther. In other words, given then extra safety equipment and sit. awareness of the SR, pilots take on risks they wouldn’t in a lesser equiped airplane. I wonder how many pilots who otherwise would stay mostly out of the clouds now find themselves flying coupled ILS approaches down to minimums.

The problem with the SR may be that it’s so capable, pilots are less wary about the situtations they get themselves into, especially with regard to IMC. And we all know that most fatal accidents arise from weather.

In reply to:

… In other words, given then extra safety equipment and sit. awareness of the SR, pilots take on risks they wouldn’t in a lesser equiped airplane. I wonder how many pilots who otherwise would stay mostly out of the clouds now find themselves flying coupled ILS approaches down to minimums.

The problem with the SR may be that it’s so capable, pilots are less wary about the situtations they get themselves into, especially with regard to IMC. And we all know that most fatal accidents arise from weather.

No doubt, much of what you said is true, and contributes to what we’re seeing reflected in our track record. Here are some further thoughts:
1] A biggie: Low-Time-in-Type. This is a known high-risk factor, one that affects even very highly experienced pilots. Almost by definition, we (pilots of not just Cirrus, but Lancair, Diamond etc. as well) are Low-Time-in-Type.

2] It takes money to buy these airplanes. Money doesn’t equal stupidity - actually, it’s more likely to be an indicator of success, and perhaps therefore, intelligence; BUT it may also be an indicator of a near-lifetime of passionate involvement with a business or a carreer, and the eventual realization of a dream - to own a nice airplane. It seems to me that a sizeable proportion of our number is “Returning to Flying After a Substantial Period of Time”… during which we were often occasional pilots only. Many of us are simply not current (enough). We trail behind the younger pilots in recent experience.

3] “Taking risks they wouldn’t in a lesser equipped airplane” – well, yes… perhaps that’s why we bought them; not to take RISKS, per se, but to do things that simply aren’t comfortable in a lesser equipped airplane, but ARE comfortable in these. (Again, not just Cirrus airplanes, but any of the “new breed”). Of course, I’m using the term “risk” in the way I think you meant it, recognizing that everything involves risk - even preflighting the airplane. Certainly, an approach to minimums in a well equipped airplane SHOULD be less ‘risky’ than one in a lesser equipped airplane, but only if the pilot is proficient with all the equipment and is capable, comfortable and current. Otherwise, the equipment on board is just a distraction, and is indeed a safety liability. So far, though, I’m not aware of any Approach-related accidents, so I’m not inclined to think that this has been a problem (yet).

4] “given then extra safety equipment and sit. awareness of the SR…”. This one gave me pause… could there really be pilots who take extra risks because we have the CAPS? (You didn’t mention that specifically, but that’s where my thoughts went). Geez, I hope not. That would be like not paying attention on the highway because you know you have a safety belt or airbag. But you never know.

5] “And we all know that most fatal accidents arise from weather” - Yes… we have had at least one that I’m aware of that has weather as a factor. Did the airplane’s capabilities lull the pilot into a false sense of security, or lead him down a tempting path that he might otherwise not have followed? We may never know the answer. I do know that we’d better ALL be cognizant of the fact that weather is sometimes bigger and stronger than any airplane or skillset we may have. Many of the rules and common-sense dictates of flying are written in blood. It’s such a shame to miss their lessons.

6] Mostly, I hope that drivers of ALL airplanes, but especially those of us with Low-Time-in-Type (and maybe lots of Time-in-Life) remain acutely aware that flying remains an activity to be treated with the utmost respect and care. My impression (strictly my own opinion - I have no hard data yet to back this up) is that the SR2x accidents we’ve seen all had causes that are non-airplane-specific. I do so hope that the pilots who are attracted to other similar airplanes (Columbias, Diamonds, etc.) regard themselves as part of the SAME family as we are - safety has no room for “partisan politics”. I want our “Modern GA Airplane Family” to survive and thrive… but as a group, it’s who we are that’s killing us, not what we fly.

Sorry for the ramble… just MHO.

  • Mike.

I agree with your comments. My personal beliefs on the matter of why the rate is not better are:

  • Virtually all Cirrus pilots are on the low end of the time-in-type curve. Most experts seem to believe that time-in-type is far more important than total time when it comes to accident rates. (While virtually impossible to do, I suspect that if we compared only low time pilots in comparable aircraft, the Cirrus accident rate would be better than average.)

  • Cirrus has been very effective in selling aircraft to people who have lower experience levels than may be appropriate (like the Bonanza was once known as the ‘Fork-Tail Dr. Killer’). These people may tend to be very successful and confident in their other pursuits and this overconfidence may bleed over into their flying skills.

  • The increased avionics gives a false sense of security in IMC or marginal VFR conditions. We tend to overlook our ‘older’ skills of map reading and pilotage.

  • Pilot overconfidence with the avionics systems. If we as pilots are not able (skilled, current and prepared) to fly the plane in the some specific condition, then we should not rely upon the autopilot and other avionics to fly it for us.

The type of accidents and incidents that have occurred have not shown any particular trends, except for the ingenuity of us as pilots to find new and unconventional ways to end flights.

Several stories in our first newsletter addressed some of these issues and our second newsletter will contain additional thoughts on the subject. The best way to avoid nearly every ‘trap’ above is training, training and more training.

As I write these comments, I have a nasty thought somewhere in the back of my head that someday you may be reading about me and my ‘stupid’ decision, which resulted in an accident. At the time, I’m sure the decision will seem perfectly reasonable and safe to me, but events unfolded differently.


There is insufficient data at the present time to say that the SR2x accident rate is greater than the GA fleet in general. The number of accidents, especially the number of fatal accidents, in SR2x’s is way too small to be able to generate a statistically significant comparison with the GA fleet in general, and I doubt there is yet any way to collect any numbers at all on hours flown in the Cirrus fleet.

With the fatal-accident rate for other single-engine aircraft in the ballpark of 1 per 100,000 hours, and the hours on the SR2x fleet still probably well under 100,000 hours, it’s going to be quite a while before it’s possible to draw any meaningful conclusions.

I have tried to follow the Cirrus accident rate fairly closely. I am familiar with the test pilot fatality (design flaw in aileron gaps) and weather related fatality (3 on board) last year. Also, I am aware of three total engine outs (one crankshaft, plane ok; one from negative G’s flight into thunderstorm, totalled plane, no fatals; and one last November which appears to be a mechanical failure, plane ok), plus several botched landings, a broken bellcrank in flight and various other squawks that have not resulted in accidents…but could have, particularly in hard IMC. As far as actual accidents go, it seems they have all been related to pilot error, except for the first (and fatal) test pilot accident. I think clearly there is an issue here about the plane being more high performance than many new Cirrus pilots are ready to handle… But then, there is also a large number of serious mechanical squawks (engine outs, loss of avionics, short-lived attitude indicators, etc), most of which have caused no problem, although one took the original test pilot’s life. Many of these uneventful “squawks” could have spelled serious trouble in IMC or in the hands of lesser experienced pilots. These problems have been followed closely on this board. Presumably, these squawks are gradually been corrected by Cirrus and suppliers.

All in all, the “rate”, however you judge it, seems high to me, particularly for a plane marketed for it’s safety features. It’s certainly well above the average for the GA fleet in both fatal and nonfatal accidents.

We should exercise caution when we talk about accidents. The FAA/NTSB have very specific criteria. While we may feel that a forced landing due to loss of engine power (for whatever reason) is an ‘accident,’ it may only be an ‘incident.’

I think this discussion is very beneficial and exciting, but we need to be careful to leave some of the ‘facts’ to the proper authorities.


First off, I’d like to thank Birge for raising a most important question, and I’d like to thank all who have given their very thoughtful insights re aviation accidents. This has been a most worthwhile discussion.

Also, and while I personally chose to purchase a different type of aircraft than the Cirrus even after having visited Duluth during the decision process, I am excited about the prospects for Cirrus and the SRxx aircraft. There will be more offerings of 21st century aircraft in the next decade, and Cirrus is to be commended for initiating new technology and designs in the single engine, small aircraft market. They have shown what can be done - and have done it!

Having said that, it is of concern that there are people who buy aircraft because they are the “slickest”, “fastest”, “most attractive”, “latest and greatest”, etc., etc. Given the risks involved, these are the wrong reasons to buy/fly a particular aircraft.

The history of accident reports makes it clear that the major cause of accidents is pilot error. That history also reveals that there are some aircraft that have better (meaning: safer) accident histories than others, which results flow from the basic aircraft design itself.

Thus, when selecting an aircraft to buy/fly, it is incumbent upon the owner/pilot to fully understand and appreciate his own skills/capabilities and then blend those skills/capabilities with the design characteristics and the accident history of the aircraft he decides to use.

Once the use of a suitable aircraft is arranged, then it is incumbent upon the owner/pilot to train, train, and further train himself on all aspects of his flying skills/capabilities and on all aspects of that aircraft’s characteristics to minimize his risks and accident potential.

Inherently, a Cirrus SRxx is a “hotter” aircraft to fly and handle than, say, a Cessna 172. Forget the fact that the 172 is denigrated in some quarters as “old technology” and a “spam can”. For some people the 172 is a perfect match for their skills/capabilities and may they forever pursue their love of flying without denigrating comments from others about the selection they made.

For others who have the skills/capabilities to handle a less forgiving aircraft, their choice of such an aircraft reflects just as sound an exercise of judgement as the Cessna 172 owner/pilot. And may they also forever enjoy the wonders of flying in their wisely chosen aircraft.

At this point, it is clearly too early on the game to determine where in the accident spectrum the Cirri will fall. However, since the Cirri inherently demand more of their pilots than some other aircraft, and since the Cirri will attract some pilots for some less-than-sound reasons, may we all say a silent prayer that those particular owners/pilots dedicate themselves to excellent training regimens and learn only from benign mistakes, not the other kind.

My 2 cents.


Enough !!! This topic can be debated for the next thirty days and we will be no farther along than if we agree to the following:

  1. We don’t know enough at this time to reach any meaningful conclusions that will convince a significant portion of the subscribers to this forum.

  2. Any conclusions which we do reach will be supported by those who agree and ridiculed by those who disagree.

  3. There is no reason for ANY pilot in ANY airplane with ANY degree of experience to knowingly place himself and his passengers in what he perceives at the time to be unreasonable risk (sort of the whole idea of “Pilot in Command”). No one has suggested any genuine factual support for the suggestion that the pilots of SR xx aircraft have been doing this. The data base is simply too small at this time to support any such conclusions. Events have occurred which are subject to different interpretations to date. Let’s see what happens over the next 9-12 months.

  4. The old sarge in Hill Street Blues said it best: “Let’s be careful out there!!” Assuming a moderate degree of intelligence, that should be enough to keep us reasonably safe.

  5. There will doubtless be a new rash of posts which disagree with the above.

Mr. Birge makes a point that the reason for the SRXX accidents (and I count 5) are that the Cirrus drivers are more prone to taking risks than say a Cessna pilot because of the BRS system as a backup. We might bust minimums or take off in inclement weather because the chute is the ultimate way out of a jam.

In looking at the SRXX incidents this doesn’t prove out at all. The unfortunate fatality (other than the test pilot) was a VFR pilot inadvertently entering into IMC. Terrible, yes, avoidable, absolutely, but the NTSB roster is filled with similar piloting errors. Start with JFK jr in his Piper as the prime example.

There were two engine out forced landings, one caused by IMC (how I’m not sure) and one thru an oil shortage in the engine, probably mechanical failure.

The fourth accident was a poor landing in an SR22 where the pilot bounced off the active and struck another parked plane. And the last was an idiotic pulling of the power incident where one CFI was trying to show another one up IMHO.

Pilots make mistakes, to be sure, and it is a rare flight where I don’t fumble over a radio call or make some other minor brain fart. Trust me, I know the potential is there for a major one which is why having the BRS is essential in my opinion.

In looking at the Cirrus accidents you made the assertion that we are more prone to take risks. These accidents, however unfortunate, indicate nothing of the sort. Pilot error happens, mechanical failure happens, but I see no evidence of a pattern of high risk flying.

Is the rate of accidents too high, yes and we all need to work to improve that. Thus the importance of this message board and other mediums of sharing and exchanging information.

4] “given then extra safety equipment and sit. awareness of the SR…”. This one gave me pause… could there really be pilots who take extra risks because we have the CAPS? (You didn’t mention that specifically, but that’s where my thoughts went).

Actually, I was mostly referring to the CAPS. When I first heard about it, my initial thought was “I wonder if that’s going to do more harm than good.” I fly a 182 right now, and one of the negatives of flying a small airplane (among many positive) is the knowledge that there really isn’t as much as we’d like to think between us and a horrific fall to earth. However, it’s probably my constant small fear that keeps me safe to a certain extent. However, the CIrrus seems very attractive to me for a very dangerous reason: it seems to always give you an “out” and I know I’d enjoy flying more if I felt more secure about flying. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting a Cirrus not so much for its performance, but because I’m essentially afraid of flying and I’d be less so with a Cirrus.

So, the CAPS probably has two effects that mitigate it’s safety benefits:

  1. The Cirrus might appeal specifically to people who inherently feel insecure about their flying ability and perhaps rightly so (low time piilots, inactive pilots, etc.) On paper a Piper cub should be a death trap, but it’s not primary because of the people flying it. The opposite might become true of a Cirrus.

  2. The CAPS (and other equipment) might take away some of the natural fear of flying a small airplane in disproportion to the extant to which it actually takes away the risk. For example, I would never take my 182 into the mountains at night, but I might consider it with a CIrrus. Also, I happen to believe that most GA airplanes are miserable machines to use for serious IFR (one vacuum, lousy autopilots, etc) and so I don’t do serious IFR flying. I might if I felt I could just pull the lever and save myself from any bad situtation I get into.

It’s not that I really think the CAPS is going to save my ass in a redline spiral dive, but it gives you the ability to comfort yourself with the idea that it’s there, and that may present a danger people aren’t totally willing to admit.

Circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, Marty and I did not collaborate on our responses! [:D]

  • Mike.

(Although this is a topic we discuss often enough; I guess that shows).

In reply to:

As I write these comments, I have a nasty thought somewhere in the back of my head that someday you may be reading about me and my ‘stupid’ decision, which resulted in an accident. At the time, I’m sure the decision will seem perfectly reasonable and safe to me, but events unfolded differently.

I feel exactly the same way. I routinely make decisions that look good in hindsight… because they worked out. I believe we all do. Decisions like… “Can I get this airplane down safely on this runway in this crosswind?” “Can I land with the glare of the setting sun in my face?” … it’s a never-ending list. The point is that there is no universal “correct answer”. There is a correct answer for me on a given day in a given situation, in my current mood, in light of my particular experience, etc. The same decision that is fine today might be dumb tomorrow. As you said, training and experience are the best tools we have for making better decisions.
A related thought: Pilots tend to “push the envelope”. It’s not a personality flaw, as long as it’s done with due consideration and care. Actually, it’s necessary. Consider that when you got your private license, you didn’t know most of what you know now about flying. When I got my SR20, I didn’t know how I would handle a crosswind landing of more than 5 knots (about the max that was available during my factory training). What to do? Push the envelope… carefully. Of course, if I decide to push the envelope by attempting a landing with a 40 knot wind at 90 degrees to the runway, everyone would read about it and say, “Boy, that was a dumb thing for Mike to do.” Quite right. But what if it’s an 18 knot wind? Obviously, there’s no right answer - the answer is “right” if, after the fact, everything worked out.
So we live in this strange paradigm, where the only way we can get experience is to try new things, as long as we don’t try things that are beyond our reasonable capabilities; but we don’t know what those capabilities are until we try. It’s actually not a COMPLETELY inscrutable problem, because every time we approach the boundary of our particular envelope, we do have a sense of how “comfortable” it was. If it “worked”, but was not comfortable, then for me, that’s the point beyond which I won’t go. If it was comfortable, then I might nudge the boundary a little more next time.
Still, like you, I’m concerned that one day I’ll make a decision that seems right at the time - but with the clarity that an armchair - and the aftermath - brings, is clearly dumb. I hope I stay concerned about that, because I often feel that the concern itself is what has kept me safe so far… or something.

  • Mike.

Regarding overconfidence in the advanced avionics: most newly produced airplanes (new designs or not) have highly capable avionics/autopilot packages comparable to those offered in the SR2X planes. In addition a growing number of planes in the used fleet have been upgraded with things like GNS430’s, STEC autopilots, even Sandels etc. I do not myself see, nor have I read any indication, that this more modern equipment increases the risk of mishap in the GA fleet as a whole. For any pilot who flies the equipment often enough to maintain reasonable familiarity/proficiency, I think it can only help. During the first couple dozen hours it may present a learning curve to be climbed (mixed metaphor?), but after that I think not.

Speaking as objectively as I can, I agree with Clyde that the number of SR2X in the field and hours flown is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.

On the other hand my own personal opinion–subjective and quite possibly wrong–is that in comparison to the standard Cessna/Piper issue the Cirrus planes present a sufficiently different (not inferior–I love landing the SR20–but just different) landing experience to transitioning novice and/or low time-in-type pilots that over time we may see a small but significant increase in landing mishaps compared to those other planes. These would be generally minor things: tail strikes, runway overruns, porpoising/prop strikes, etc.: dinged metal/fiberglass that cost $ to repair but few or no injuries.

Clyde: I agree with you. but IMHO, even 1 accident is too many. Hopefully, by discussing these issues and raising awareness, we can do something to affect the statistics (Lies?) in a positive direction.


My old statistics professor used to say, “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal is vital!


  • Mike.

Marty, I would like to see the GA accident rate a lot lower than it is, like everybody else. I responded as I did because if you start with the assumption that there is a “problem” with the SR2x accident rate, then the discussion veers into areas like “overconfidence because of the you-beaut equipment on board”, thus distracting attention and energy from those things that are already known to kill GA pilots.

There is NO evidence that giving pilots more and better information in flight increases the accident rate. Let’s spend our time and energy on other things.

"There is NO evidence that giving pilots more and better information in flight increases the accident rate. Let’s spend our time and energy on other things. "

No, and I hope I didn’t say anything that could be misinterpreted to that affect. However, it is the pilots who cause the majority of accidents (even if there are other contributing factors), and it is the pilots who use or misuse the avionics.

I believe the best way to avoid repeating history is to learn from it. Using the same logic, let’s learn from accidents so we don’t repeat them.

My father used to say, “The best way to learn is through your mistakes.” Well, I have always added that, “Sometimes the best way to learn may be through others’ mistakes. And it is always less painful.”

Not wanting to be glib, but if by raising awareness of potential issues or mistakes, we prevent an accident then it is worthwhile endeavor. If some irresponsible people want to twist the discussion into one of the safety or merits of one aircraft over another or the broader question of safety of GA, then that is something that I unfortunately cannot control. But I will not be dissuaded from continuing the conversation because of those misguided people. I think that argument smacks of all of the flight restrictions placed on GA in the aftermath of 9/11 because of what MIGHT happen.

I am a big believer in the safety features designed int the Cirrus. I voted with my wallet. I trust my life to it and those of my family. But I don’t take the risks lightly. Every time I takeoff, I do increase the level of risks i am exposed to. I think I do so responsibly after understanding the risks and consequences thereof. Safety is not an absolute, it is only a way to mitigate risk.

If I’ve come across as pious, I’m sorry. That to is not my intention. I feel like I have many friends in the ‘virtual hangar.’ I’ve met only a few, but every time any of my virtual flying friends has a mishap, I take it very personally, as if I had actually known that person.


On a positive note, at a recent fractional share open house (KDXR) the SR20 flown in by Bruce G supposedly was the A/C that was “totalled” in Georgia. Not only nice that the original occupants survied, but that the plane was rebuildable

Where are you getting the data about botched landing incidents and other in flight mishaps? I have searched the NTSB accident and incident databases again today and there are only six Cirrus accidents listed total. I would like to look at any data you have access to as I am a very low time in type Cirrus pilot and I would to learn as much as I can from the other guy’s bad experience.

In reply to:

All in all, the “rate”, however you judge it, seems high to me, particularly for a plane marketed for it’s safety features

This is precisely my point - there is no “rate” that we can determine right now - IOW if you ask the question “is the Cirrus accident rate higher than that for comparable aircraft”, the answer is “nobody knows”. There has been one fatal accident in a certified SR2x, and the number of hours flown by the fleet is unknown - there is simply no way of calculating a “rate” that has any meaning whatsoever with that number (1). There will need to be several hundred thousand hours flown before the “rate” can be determined to any meaningful level.

Thus, any speculation about what has lead to the “rate” is equally meaningless. Discussion about safety in GA aircraft in general and in Cirrus aircraft in particular is fine, and learning from others’ mistakes is A Good Thing, but please let’s not start looking for the causes of a non-existent “problem”.