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BUS 495 Business Strategy and Policy

Published : 30-Sep,2021  |  Views : 10


The purpose of this paper is to investigate and establish the relationship between human error and aircraft accidents across the world. Data used in this study was obtained from the database. The data comprised of the 1,104 fatal aircraft accidents that occurred between January 1, 1960 and December 31, 2015.

These accidents were categorized by cause (pilot error, weather, mechanical, sabotage and other). This data was analyzed using descriptive statistics where contribution of each cause of these accidents was represented using bar graphs, line graphs and a pie chart.

The empirical results obtained showed that pilot error was the major cause of accidents throughout the data period. On average, pilot error caused 58% of total fatal accidents while weather, mechanical, sabotage and other caused 6%, 17%, 9% and 10% of the accidents respectively. Therefore human error is the major cause of aircraft accidents and stakeholders in the aviation industry can improve safety of air travel by focusing on how to prevent or reduce human errors.  



For many years, travelling by air has always been and is still one of the safest modes of transport worldwide, despite several airplane crashes reported over the years (Bennett, 2015). One major reason why people may think otherwise about the safety of air transport is because aircraft accidents are always publicized by almost all media outlets across the world. An example of this is the Flight MH370 accident that caught the attention of the world in March 2014 (McDonell, 2014). This widespread sharing of information about aircraft accidents may make some people self-doubting about air transport safety. There are several causes of aircraft accidents and human error is one of the top causes (, (n.d.); Harris, 2012; Yahoo Travel, 2015). Other causes include mechanical failure, weather and intentional. According to Jedick (2014), it is estimated that 70-80% of aircraft accidents are as a result of human error. This means that if human errors are eliminated or lessened then the number of aircraft accidents will significantly reduce. The good news is that air transport is getting safer as stakeholders in the aviation industry use all available tools such as modern technology to prevent aircraft accidents (Garibay and Young, 2013). This research is very important as it investigates the impact of human errors in aircraft accidents.

Literature Review

Safety is a very important factor when travelling and people always want to travel with reassurance that they will reach their destination safely. Despite being among the fastest forms of transportation, air travel is also one of the safest modes of transportation. As shown in Figure 1 below, the number of fatalities reported in the U.S. aviation industry was the lowest of all transportation modes in 1990, 2000, 2009 and 2010 (Chambers, 2012). A report released by Flight Global (2015) also showed that the number of flights have been increasing whereas the number of fatal aircraft accidents have been decreasing since 1990.


Figure 1: Fatalities by transportation mode in 1990, 2000, 2009 and 2010

Figure 2 below also shows the number of transportation fatalities released by National Transportation safety Board (NTSB) in 2013 (Dawid, 2015). These numbers clearly show that air transport is safer than other transportation modes.


Figure 2: Transportation fatalities in 2013

Types of human errors

There are different types of human errors that can cause aircraft accidents. These include errors made by the maintenance personnel, air traffic controllers, flight crew and other persons who influence flight safety directly. The major factor that usually leads to human error is erroneous situational awareness i.e. failure to assess maintenance or operational situation appropriately. Th following are the major human errors attributed to aircraft accidents

Man-machine interface

Automation and modern technology in general have significantly improved aircraft safety. However, an accident may result from misunderstanding or incorrect use of technology by the flight crew. Any slight mistakes by the flight crew can result to vast consequences.   

Situational awareness loss

This usually occurs when the flight crew is dealing with an emergency matter on board. In such a case, it becomes very easy for the crew to forget other prospective issues and keep awareness at the same time. The crew members become distracted as they try to handle an emergency issue and as a result, they lose awareness of other situations that can easily cause an accident (SKYrary, 2016). An example of this is the Flight 214 accident of Asiana Airlines that occurred in July 2013 (Associated Press, 2014). During the accident, the crew had concentrated on the auto-throttle that had malfunctioned and forgot to look through the cockpit window and notice the impossibility of landing safely.

Improper coordination between crews

Crew resource management (CRM) is a very crucial element in aviation industry. Th first officer must be fully respected by captains. The captains must also acknowledge all warnings or mistakes that the first officer addresses. The first officer should call all problems to attention without any intimidation from the captains. It becomes very easy for an aircraft accident to occur if there is communication and coordination breakdown between flight crew members (Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C., 2017). An example of this is the Flight 90 accident of Air Florida that happened in 1982 after the pilot ignored co-pilot’s warnings about the issues of low speed and excess ice being on the wings.

Improper training

It is very important for all pilots and crew to be properly trained so as to gain adequate knowledge and skills to operate aircraft safely. However, there are pilots who operate aircrafts without proper training about all aspects of those particular aircrafts. Such pilots are prone to making errors because they cannot diagnose or fix problems when they arise aboard. An example of this is also the Flight 214 accident of Asiana Airlines in 2013. Pilot of this aircraft had been trained to rely fully on the automated system and therefore could not diagnose and fix the problem manually leading to the crash (Associated Press, 2014).


This usually occurs as a result of airlines pushing their flight crews to work for longer hours and very short turnaround times. With this, flight crews have very few hours to rest between flights. These airlines overlook the need for flight crews to have adequate rest in preparation for the subsequent flight. With high fatigue, it becomes very easy for a pilot or any member of the flight crew to make an error leading to aircraft accident.Maintenance and dispatch mistakes

Human error can lead to aircraft accident even before the aircraft starts flying. This occurs when maintenance of the aircraft is done incorrectly. This leads to malfunctioning of aircraft components without a warning. Some causes of improper aircraft maintenance include unsupervised and inexperienced maintenance crew.

Crew negligence

The actions of onboard crew members including flight attendants are very important in ensuring safety of aircrafts. If there is any problem, the crew members need to take every action necessary to maintain and improve safety. For instance, flight attendants need to ensure that overhead bins are properly closed to prevent luggage from falling during mid-flight that could otherwise distract pilots.

Errors by air traffic controllers

Aircraft accidents can also be caused by poorly trained, fatigued or distracted air traffic controllers. Such situations can easily cause mid-air collisions, accidents on airport runways or pilots getting faulty services during emergencies resulting to improper and unsafe actions.

Defiance to procedures/checklist

In aviation industry, there are several checklists and procedures that must be checked and followed at each stage of the flight. Neglecting any of these checklists/procedures increases chances of aircraft accidents. The flight crew must read all checklists aloud and confirm that they are in correct settings or positions. The pilot should also follow all pre-designed procedures of flying the aircraft so as to prevent accidents. An example of an aircraft accident caused by negligence of confirming the checklist is flight 1455 of the Southwest Airlines that occurred in 2000. Before the occurrence of the accident, the first officer only acknowledged the checklist visually instead of reading all the checklist items aloud for the entire flight crew to confirm. The captain and first officer also ignored several warnings just before landing and causing the accident (Marais, 2014).

In general, human errors involving aircraft accidents can be categorized as skill-based errors, decision errors, perpetual errors and violations. Decision errors entail poor choices, problem solving mistakes and procedural errors. Skilled-based errors comprise of memory and/or attention failures. Perpetual errors are those resulting from unforeseen challenges experienced id-flight such as poor weather, flying at night, inadequate communication, etc. Violations occur when aircrews willingly disregard regulations and rules that are established to ensure safety of flight. Therefore the number of aircraft accidents caused by human errors can be reduced if all the factors contributing to human errors are mitigated (Troyer, 2010).


This study was completed by comprehensive review of database records of various aircraft accidents that were caused by human error, which are maintained by different aviation authorities in various parts of the world such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In this particular research, data used was obtained from database. The data used was the number and percentage of fatal aircraft accidents from January 1, 1960 to December 31, 2015. The data comprised of a total of 1,104 fatal aircraft accidents (, 2017), excluding accidents that involved helicopters, and private and military aircrafts. In this case, pilot error represented human error. This data provided very important information about the number of fatal aircraft accidents caused by human error during the five-decade period, which was enough to make reliable conclusions on the contribution of human errors in aircraft accidents.

The data used in the study is as shown in Table 1 and 2 below

Table 1: Number of fatal aircraft accidents by cause from 1960s to 2000s

Accidents by Cause – Numbers








Pilot error



































 Table 2: Percentage of fatal aircraft accidents by cause from 1960s to 2000s

Accidents by Cause – Percentage








Pilot error




































This study used both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to analyze the data collected. Since the main focus was to analyze the relationship between human error and aircraft accidents, the data collected was used to create graphs and pie chart using Microsoft Excel. The specific methodologies used to analyze data were graphic displays and descriptive statistics. These methodologies are very useful when summarizing, describing and comparing different data categories so as to establish how they are correlated (Andale, 2017; Boslaugh, 2012;, 2017). In this case, descriptive statistics were used to show how human error relates to aircraft accidents. These were sufficient to establish the impact of human error in aircraft accidents, in relation to other causes of aircraft accidents. Statistical charts, plots and graphs are very important methodologies especially

Empirical results

The graph in Figure 3 below represents the number of fatal aircraft accidents that occurred from 1960 to 2015. The graph shows that the number of accidents caused by pilot error was higher than all the other causes combined across all the five decades. The number of accidents resulting from pilot error was highest during 1960s and reduced in 1970s and 1980s. However, this number increased in 1990s before dropping to the lowest level in 2000s. One of the reasons as to why the number of accidents caused by pilot error reduced in 2000s is because of the advanced technology (Allianz, 2015). Over the past decade or so, technology and automation are being used to reduce flight crews’ workload thus improving the overall safety of air transportation. The graphs in Figure 4 also show the same trend of pilot error representing the highest percentage of fatal aircraft accidents that occurred between 1960 and 2015.     


Figure 3: Number of fatal aircraft accidents by cause from 1/11960 to 31/12/2015


Figure 4: Graph showing percentage of fatal aircraft accidents by cause from 1/11960 to 31/12/2015

The data obtained in the report has been summarized by the pie chart in Figure 5 below. From the pie chart, pilot error accounted for 58% of the total fatal aircraft accidents that occurred from January 1, 1960 to December 31, 2015. The other accidents were caused by weather, mechanical failure, sabotage and other accounted for 6%, 17%, 9% and 10% respectively.


Figure 5: Pie chart showing total percentage of fatal aircraft accidents by cause from 1/11960 to 31/12/2015

From Figure 5 above, it is clear that pilot error accounted for more than half of the 1,104 fatal aircraft accidents that occurred over the five-decade period that was analyzed in this research. This affirms the hypothesis that human error is a major cause of aircraft accidents. It is also worth noting that human error can be caused by other issues other than pilot error such as maintenance error that is under mechanical category and ground crew error that is under the category of other. If this was considered then the total percentage of aircraft accidents caused by human error would likely have exceeded 60%.  


This paper investigated the involvement of human error in aircraft accidents. Various factors that contribute to human error were analyzed, including man-machine interface, situational awareness loss, improper coordination between flight crews, improper training, fatigue, maintenance and dispatch mistakes, negligence, errors by air traffic controllers, and defiance to procedures/checklist. All these factors contribute to human error and therefore aircraft accidents can be significantly reduced if each of these factors is properly integrated in the training and practice of flight crews and other members involved in the operations of aircrafts. Data used in this research was obtained from, a reliable source of information about aircraft accidents. The data used was the causes of 1,104 fatal aircraft accidents between that occurred between 1960 and end of 2015. Descriptive statistics was used to analyze this data.

The empirical results obtained showed that pilot error or human error as a whole is the leading cause of fata aircraft accidents during the entire data period – 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. On average, pilot error accounted for 58% of all the fatal aircraft accidents that occurred between 1960 and 2015. It was also noted that the total number of fatal accidents, including those caused by human error, reduced in 2000s and this is partially as a result of technological advancement over the past decade. For instance, the number of fatal accidents caused by pilot error reduced from 140 in 1990s to 107 in 2000s – a 24% decrease. This shows that stakeholders in the aviation industry are putting in place proper strategies of reducing human errors that cause aircraft accidents.

In general, human errors cause most of the aircraft accidents and can be reduced significantly through application of modern technology and ensuring adequate training of flight crews, effective communication and coordination of flight crew, proper supervision of aircraft maintenance and dispatch operations, following procedures during all aircraft operations, confirming all checklist items before takeoff, ensuring a friendlier and seamless man-machine interface, ensuring that the flight crew does not lose situational awareness, avoiding negligence, and ensuring that air traffic controllers avoid errors by all means possible.

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Bennett, S. (2015) Why flying is still the safest form of transport [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 20, 2017].    

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