Friday, May 24

Is Florida more prone to plane crashes than other states?

There have been 16 accidents involving airplanes in Florida just this year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

WPTV chief investigator Jamie Ostroff looked into whether Florida is more prone to plane crashes than other parts of the country and how officials are working to bring those numbers down in our area.

On Feb. 1, a personal single-engine aircraft that took off from Vero Beach crashed into two homes in Clearwater. The crash occurred moments after the pilot communicated over the radio that there was a fire, according to the preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot and two people on the ground were killed.

Eight days later, pilots on a chartered jet returning from a trip to Ohio communicated that both engines had failed and they needed to make an emergency landing. The plane came down on Interstate 75, just shy of the runway at the Naples airport, and burst into flames.

According to the preliminary report for that incident, a federal inspection had deemed the jet airworthy just a month before the crash.

Both pilots on the plane were killed. Four others were hurt.

Those are two of the 16 aviation accidents that have happened in Florida this year that are currently under investigation by the NTSB.

According to the agency, a full investigation can take one to two years to complete.

“When an airplane comes out of the sky, it’s a big event. When you hear about five or 10 crack-ups (crashes) on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County that happened probably … close to every day, you think nothing of it. It’s just routine,” G. Peter Reed, president of Reed Aero, an aviation consulting company that also sells aircraft.

Reed began flying at the age of 14, and has no question that flying is safe.

“You have to look at the numbers,” Reed said. “You have a bigger chance of getting into a mishap getting to the airport than you do in an average airplane flight.”

WPTV analyzed nationwide crash data from the NTSB, licensing data from the Federal Aviation Administration and population data tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of all 50 states over the past 10 years, Florida has seen the third largest number of fatal plane crashes, according to NTSB data.

California and Texas are the only states that have more. Those are also the only two states with larger populations than Florida.

Florida also has the eighth-highest percentage of its population licensed to fly a plane.

“It’s warm weather and beautiful skies, most of the time,” Reed said. “So we have a large number of people down here that love to fly, and they have access to airplanes from, you know, the very small … to much larger airplanes.”

When weighed against state population, fatal plane crashes happen in Florida at a rate lower than those in 19 other states.

Still, the FAA is working on some changes to better manage air traffic and make the skies safer over South Florida.

“In December 2023, the FAA provided local aviation stakeholders a preliminary proposal to modify the Class C airspace controlled by the West Palm Beach (PBI) Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), and the airspace controlled by Daytona Beach (DAB) ATCT and TRACON,” an agency spokesman told WPTV in an emailed statement.

Reed is part of a committee studying the airspace to help with the proposed changes.

He explained that while air traffic around larger airports is tracked by radar and an air traffic controller in a tower, smaller airports like Lantana and North Palm Beach are uncontrolled. This means that pilots rely on one another to communicate their position over the radio to avoid collisions.

“What they’re trying to do is make sure that as traffic builds, that the air space that they control is adequate to handle the increased traffic in the airport flow,” Reed said.

“Air traffic operations in the DAB and PBI airspace have increased significantly due to the growth of flight schools and increased air traffic operations at the other airports within the airspace,” the FAA’s statement continued. “The proposed changes will enhance the overall safety of the airspace and improve arrival and departure procedures for specific airports.”

Ultimately, Reed said, safety is the responsibility of the person flying the plane.

“The key to safety in aviation is training, and procedures,” Reed said, displaying a 48-point aircraft checklist which pilots must follow before takeoff.

It’s a lesson pilots say is instilled in them as students before their first flight.

Eric Arens, chief flight instructor for Sky Blue Aviation, said the most important value he tries to impart is to avoid complacency.

“Nobody ever starts out to crash airplanes. Are (crashes) preventable? I suppose, sometimes,” Arens said. “When something happens … like a whole bunch of geese flying into your engines. How preventable is that?”

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