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Experts weigh-in on series of fatal Utah plane crashes

Posted at 8:27 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 11:05:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Airplane crashes have been in the news in Utah a lot over the past year.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been a total of six deadly aviation-related accidents in the state in the past year, and 51 in the last 10 years.

Comparing our statistics to other states, Nevada had a total of 41 deadly crashes over that same time period and Colorado had 78.

While this isn’t a uniquely Utah issue, it still is a cause for concern.

In the United States, general aviation (all civil aviation which accounts for planes in non-commercial use) is a huge market.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. "has the largest and most diverse GA community in the world, with more than 220,000 active aircraft."

The cause of the crash over the weekend that claimed the lives of four people has not yet been determined, but FOX 13 looked into the statistics and data to find out what we could about the accident.

The majority of crashes or accidents involving planes are from general aviation aircraft, according to stats from both the NTSB and the FAA.

Flying in Utah specifically does come with some challenges as well.

“Flying in Utah’s tough. We actually have a lot of people coming from out of state to learn how to fly here,” said Jason Clark, the founder and manager of FLT Academy, “Mostly because of density altitude.”

Density altitude in aviation is a technical term for how an aircraft can operate differently at different elevations and temperatures.

When flying in cooler temperatures, the air is thicker and therefore gives airplanes better performance. In hot temperatures, air molecules are farther apart, making planes perform worse and causing a decrease in horsepower and maneuverability.

Add into that the altitude that planes already take off at in Utah, where the air is thinner, and things can get tricky.

“Density altitude is a very important learning factor that you have to take into consideration,” Clark said.

Clark is the founder of FLT Academy, which has locations in Utah and California, and he is an experienced pilot himself.

He noted that while they are in the news a lot lately, plane crashes are still incredibly rare.

“If you heard about every car accident there ever was, you wouldn’t ever want to get on the freeways ever again,” he said.

Statistically, plane crashes are relatively rare, even if general aviation accounts for around 90 percent of all crashes.

A private pilot's license is the most common type of license available. It takes around 40 hours to complete and varies based on different schools.

For Clark and FLT Academy, they train their students in every scenario they could find themselves in while up in the air.

“Flying is easy. Learning how not to crash is 99 percent of the training,” Clark said.

Aircraft maintenance is also a huge factor, and planes need to kept in tip-top condition to fly.

“With our aircraft, for every hour of flight time there’s nearly two hours of maintenance," Clark said.

Despite his academy not being involved in any of the major plane crashes over the last year in Utah, every aviation accident hits home for Clark and his students.

“Crashes absolutely take a toll on everybody when it comes to aviation,“ he said. “So when we hear about something like this, our hearts go out to everybody.”