Flight accidents decline
The number of aviation accidents declined locally and nationally last year, in part because fewer people were flying, according to newly released National Transportation Safety Board statistics.
In 2009, there were nine aviation accidents in Hawai'i, according to the NTSB figures, compared with 11 the year before and a high of 16 five years ago.
Only one of the accidents was fatal: On Jan. 16, 2009, a glider hit the southwestern slope of Mauna Loa, killing its pilot.
In addition, a total of four people were seriously injured in Hawai'i air crashes last year, and three suffered minor injuries.
The only event involving an air tour occurred Nov. 20, when a K&S Helicopters aircraft was damaged after its left rear landing skid collapsed at the Turtle Bay Resort heliport in Kahuku. The pilot and four passengers were not injured.
So far this year, there has been one fatal general aviation accident. On Jan. 10, a Piper Cherokee single-engine plane traveling from Lāna'i to Honolulu crashed into a steep ridge between Ka'au Crater and the Lanipo Trail in inclement weather.
On board were well-known veterinarian Nicholas Palumbo, 81, who was the pilot, and his son, 20-year-old Tim Palumbo.
Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration's Western-Pacific Region office said the declining number of air accidents in the Islands may be related to new emphasis over the last several years on aviation safety.
"In Hawai'i, we've paid an awful lot of attention to aviation safety of all types," he said. "I can't say for sure there's a correlation between increased safety oversight and fewer accidents. It's possible there is."
Gregor said those safety improvements include increasing the number of inspectors in Hawai'i for general aviation flights and working more closely with air tour operators.
He said the decline in accidents locally and nationally is also probably due to the economy.
"There are fewer people flying," he said.
The NTSB said in a news release that general aviation — or noncommercial — accidents in the United States declined by 6 percent in 2009 to 1,474 accidents, compared with 1,566 the year before.
Although general aviation accidents are down, the agency noted that the accident rate increased last year to 7.20 per 100,000 flight hours, up from 6.86 in 2008.
Also, even though general aviation fatalities decreased from 494 in 2008 to 474 last year, the fatal accident rate increased to 1.33 per 100,000 flight hours, up from 1.21.
"On-demand flight operations," which include air medical, air taxi and air tour flights, reported 47 accidents in 2009, down from 58 in 2008.
Fatalities also decreased from 69 in 2008 to 17 in 2009. The accident rate, meanwhile, decreased to 1.63 per 100,000 flight hours, down from 1.81.