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Common accident causes from the Federal Aviation Administration

In researching airplane accidents, the Federal Aviation Administration categorizes them by common themes. Reasons for accidents include human error, machine or process failures, effects from decisions that were not intended, lapses in organization or management and flawed assumptions.

In maintaining and operating airlines and airplanes, both organizations and humans must make assumptions. A pilot assumes the ground crew has done its job, for example.

Assumptions are made about work done by others, machines and weather. If assumptions are correct, then the organization assumes operation will be as planned and safe. If any assumptions are incorrect, however, issues can arise. Unintended effects is a theme that is similar to faulty assumptions. Individuals make decisions that are supposed to have a certain outcome but might have a detrimental side effect no one planned on.

According to the FAA, human error is the most common theme related to airline accidents. Human error can include incorrect operation, a mistake in calculation or any other type of error that leads to an accident. Human error is also one of the hardest themes to address: someone can be well-trained and excellent at his or her job and still have an off day for many reasons.

Organizational lapses often have to do with communication. Important information about safety or machines might not make it to the right people in time, putting aircraft at risk. Pre-existing failures occur when a single machine or even an entire line of machines has a known or unknown fault that could cause accidents. In some cases, organizational lapses and pre-existing failures overlap. A mechanic might identify an issue, but the information isn't handled in a timely manner, which leads to an accident.

Airline accidents don't always involve actual plane crashes, and all of the themes identified by the FAA could play out with smaller incidents. If you are injured in any type of air travel incident, understanding the themes and reasons for the injury can be important in seeking compensation.

Source: Federal Aviation Administration, "Lessons Learned From Transport Airplane Accidents," accessed Oct. 02, 2015

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