The online report includes interactive functionality allowing users to access the report’s safety data to create their own reports specific to their needs.

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 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 2008-2017 to provide an insight into the current and possible future trends in aviation safety.

What the ATSB found

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

In 2017, nearly 200 aircraft were involved in accidents in Australia, with 203 involved in a serious incident (an incident with a high probability of an accident). There were 40 fatalities in the aviation sector in 2017, which was a significant increase from the 21 fatalities in 2016. 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.

Almost half of all fatalities that occurred in commercial air transport operations during the study period occurred in 2017. During 2017, there were 14 fatalities from 21 accidents in commercial air transport operations, 21 fatalities from 93 accidents in general aviation operations, and five fatalities from 53 accidents in recreational aviation operations.

Terrain collisions were the most common accidents or serious incidents for aircraft involved in general aviation, recreational aviation and remotely piloted aircraft in 2017. Aircraft control, followed by terrain collisions, were the most common occurrence type associated with an accident or serious incident for aircraft involved in air transport operations.

Wildlife strikes, including birdstrikes, were again the most common type of incident involving both commercial air transport and general aviation operations. Runway events and aircraft control incidents were the most common types of incident reported for recreational aviation.

The accident and fatal accident rates for general and recreational aviation reflect their higher‑risk operational activity when compared to commercial 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 nine times more likely to have an accident than commercial air transport operations, with recreational operations around twice as likely to experience an accident than general aviation operations.

The fatal accident rate, per hours flown, indicates general aviation operations are around fifteen times more likely to experience a fatal accident than commercial air transport operations, and recreational operations are almost 30 times more likely to experience a fatal accident than commercial air transport operations.

Private/business helicopters followed closely by recreational gyrocopters had the highest fatal accident rate for any aircraft or operation type, whereas recreational aeroplanes had the highest total accident rate. There were no fatal accidents involving general aviation balloons reported during the study period.

Aeroplanes remain the most common aircraft type flown, which is reflected in the proportion of accidents they are involved in. In 2017, 15 of the 22 fatal accidents involved aeroplanes—three gliders, two helicopters, and two weight shift aircraft were also involved in fatal accidents.

Since 2016, the increased availability and use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) saw them match 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. 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.

Note: Previous editions of Aviation Occurrence Statistics reports contained an error regarding the number of occurrences and subsequently rates for balloons conducting general aviation operations and air transport - charter operations. This error was communicated to the ATSB by the Australian Ballooning Federation. A systemic error was identified and rectified within the reporting system. This report has a decrease in the number of occurrences, and rates, for balloons conducting private operations, and a corresponding increase for balloons conducting charter operations compared to previous editions.

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 also for 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 operation 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.

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