General aviation loss of control in flight accidents: causal and contributory factors

Jack Smith, Mike Bromfield

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Loss of control in flight is the primary fatal accident category in general aviation. Forty six fixed-wing UK accidents from 2018 and 2019 were analyzed to identify precursors, human factors, and possible reasons for unsuccessful recovery. Most of the events were non-fatal (82.6%), and most occurred during low altitude flight phases, particularly landings and go-arounds. Pilots under 40 and over 75 were disproportionately more likely to experience loss of control in flight. It was mostly precipitated by ineffective recovery from an upset, inadequate energy management, abnormal/inadvertent control inputs or maneuvers, or improper procedures. Insufficient height above the ground was a factor in most unsuccessful recoveries, followed by limited pilot capability. Fatal accidents were much more likely to be unrecoverable due to a hazardous mental or physical state or incorrect recognition of the situation. Decision- and skill-based human errors contributed to most events; more than half of cases involved both errors. Fatal accidents were more complex in terms of pre-flight and latent human errors. These results informed a new definition of loss of control in flight for general aviation combined with a conceptual framework to inform future intervention strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-153
JournalJournal of Air Transportation
Issue number4
Early online date21 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jul 2022


  • Aviation
  • Commercial Aviation
  • Energy Management
  • Flight Trajectory
  • General Aviation
  • Human Factors Analysis and Classification System
  • Instrument Meteorological Conditions
  • International Civil Aviation Organization
  • Pilot
  • Spatial Disorientation


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