The purpose of this report

Each year, thousands of safety occurrences involving Australian and foreign-registered aircraft are reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) by individuals and organisations in Australia’s aviation industry and by members of the general public.

This report is part of a series that aims to provide information to the aviation industry, manufacturers and policy makers, as well as to the travelling and general public, about these aviation safety occurrences. In particular, what can be learned to improve transport safety in the aviation sector.

The study uses information over the ten-year period from 2007–2016 to provide an insight into the current and possible future trends in aviation safety, and takes a detailed look at the accidents and incidents in 2016 for each type of aircraft operation. 

What the ATSB found

The majority of air transport operations in Australia each year proceed without incident.

In 2016, nearly 230 aircraft were involved in accidents in Australia, with another 291 aircraft involved in a serious incident (an incident with a high probability of an accident). There were 21 fatalities in the aviation sector in 2016, which was fewer than any previous year recorded by the ATSB. There were no fatalities in either high or low capacity regular public transport (RPT) operations, which has been the case since 1975 and 2010 respectively.

Commercial air transport operations experienced one fatality from 15 accidents; general aviation experienced 10 fatalities from 119 accidents; and recreational aviation had 10 fatalities from 63 accidents.

Collision with terrain was the most common accident or serious incident for general aviation aircraft, recreational aviation and remotely piloted aircraft in 2016. Aircraft control was the most common cause of an accident or serious incident for air transport operators.

Wildlife strikes, including birdstrikes, were again the most common types of incident involving air transport and general aviation operations, with runway events the most common type of incident for recreational aviation.

The accident and fatal accident rates for general and recreational aviation reflect the higher‑risk operational activity when compared to air transport operations. They also reflect the significant growth in recreational aviation activity over the last ten years and this sector’s increased reporting culture.

General aviation accounts for one‑third of the total hours flown by Australian-registered aircraft and over half of all aircraft movements across Australia.

The total accident rate, per hours flown, indicates general aviation operations are 10 times more likely to have an accident than commercial operations, with recreational aircraft around twice as likely to experience an accident than general aviation.

The fatal accident rate, per hours flown, indicates general aviation operations are around 20 times more likely to experience a fatal accident than commercial air transport, and recreational operations are almost 40 times more likely to experience a fatal accident than air transport.

 Occurrences by operation type: In 2016, nearly 230 aircraft were involved in accidents in Australia, with another 291 aircraft involved in a serious incident

Recreational gyrocopters experienced the highest fatal accident rate for any aircraft or operation type, whereas recreational balloon operations had the highest total accident rate; almost four times as high as any other aircraft operation type. There were no fatal accidents involving recreational balloons reported during the study period.

Aeroplanes remain the most common aircraft type flown which is reflected in their involved in accidents. In 2016, nine of the 15 fatal accidents involved aeroplanes—three helicopters and two powered weight shift aircraft were also involved in fatal accidents.

In 2016, the increased availability and use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) saw them surpass helicopters as the second highest aircraft type for reported accidents; however, there were no collisions with other aircraft, fatalities or serious injuries relating to RPA reported to the ATSB that year. While the consequences of an accident involving an RPA have been low to date, their increased use, and possible interactions with traditional aviation, is an emerging trend in transport safety that will continue to be monitored closely by the ATSB.

Safety message

This report highlights the importance of effective and timely reporting of all aviation safety occurrences, not just for the potential of initiating an investigation, but to allow further study and analysis of aviation transport safety.

While there has been an increase in accident and incident reporting, the limited detail provided for most occurrences, especially by recreational flyers, remains a challenge for the industry and ATSB. This report also highlights the need for improvements in the reporting rates for some areas in general aviation.

By comparing accident and occurrence data across aviation operations types, the ATSB is able to develop a complete picture of the aviation industry to identify emerging trends in aviation transport safety, identify further areas for research and recommend pre-emptive safety actions.

Download the research report:

AR-2017-104: Aviation Occurrence Statistics 2007 to 2016 

Publication Mode
Investigation number
Publication date
Publication type