Deadly mistakes by pilots – the No. 1 cause of commercial airline crashes – have decreased dramatically over the past decade. But a new concern has emerged in the government’s efforts to make air travel safer: poor maintenance.
A USA TODAY analysis of 22 years of crash data and interviews with aviation analysts suggest that innovative training and modern jets with better warning systems have helped pilots quickly correct what might once have been fatal mistakes.
As a result, crashes caused by pilots – about two-thirds of all accidents from the 1960s through the mid 1990s – fell to about half of all crashes from 1995 through 2001.
But as the industry focused on improvements in the cockpit, tackling maintenance problems remained a lower priority. The consequence: Accidents caused by maintenance errors have become the second-most- likely category of accident since 1995. More than 30% of accidents from 1997 through 2001 were caused at least in part by maintenance mistakes.