Why have we done this report

In the last three decades, Australia has seen a significant growth in the number of amateur-built aeroplanes (aircraft built for personal use from an original design, established plans or kit, which are not entirely built and assembled in a factory).  However, the safety record of amateur-built aircraft in Australia had not been robustly established.

What did this report do

The ATSB investigated the safety history of amateur-built aircraft in Australia through analysis of accident data held in the ATSB’s occurrence database from 1988 to 2010. Comparisons were made between accidents involving amateur-built aircraft and those involving similar factory-built aircraft to help identify whether the rate and types of accidents differed between these two groups of aircraft.

What the ATSB found

Amateur-built aircraft had an accident rate three times higher than comparable factory-built certified aircraft conducting similar flight operations between 1988 and 2010. The fatal and serious injury accident rate was over five times higher in amateur-built aircraft, in particular due to relatively more serious injury accidents.

The pilots of amateur-built aircraft involved in accidents were significantly more experienced overall than factory-built aircraft accident pilots. However, they were significantly less experienced on the aircraft type that they were flying at the time of the accident.

Over half of the accidents were precipitated by mechanical events, which were mainly complete or partial engine failures. Following the amateur-built phase one test period, mechanical failures were still significantly more common when compared with factory-built aircraft. A quarter of accidents were from loss of aircraft control. Structural failures were not common precursors in amateur-built aircraft.

Collision with terrain and forced landing accidents were more frequent in amateur-built aircraft. Collisions with terrain, hard landings, and runway excursions were more likely to result in a serious injury from an amateur-built aircraft accident than for factory-built accidents.

Safety message

Builders of amateur-built aircraft should select, install and maintain aircraft engines carefully as engine issues are the most likely reason why an accident will occur. Careful consideration to occupant protection at the time of building is also encouraged as serious injuries have been disproportionally more common.

Owners of amateur-built aircraft should ensure they have adequate training in the same type of aircraft before operating the aircraft they have built, or purchased second-hand.

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Wilson, D. A., Taylor, R. P., Stanton, D. R., & Godley S. T.
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