Some ask "Which aircraft is safer? Give me numbers!" These should be read with skepticism: statistics are skewed and presented selectively (even here!). Further, we compare one aircraft to another. This, though, is hair splitting. The real comparison is general aviation against other forms of transportation. This is discussed more below.
Regardless, this compares aircraft to aircraft. We use the intuitive "percent of fleet in an accident each year" for recent years. New model Cessna 182s show well (see sidebar). Cirrus' follow next.
You can adjust for aircraft speed, flight hours and missions to try to measure "accidents per mile traveled". While Cirrus (a faster aircraft used extensively for cross-country travel) would "rank higher" it is better to keep the numbers simple.
Most other aircraft in production today fall below the background level for single engine aircraft. This is not necessarily significant since there are many older aircraft in the fleet that fly very little. Slow, training aircraft appear very weak but in the training environment you get many minor "dings" and other minor accidents.
One accident/incident number being used to mislead is in discussion of "post crash fires". Some argue that Cirrus aircraft are somehow prone to this - and their aircraft isn't (of course!). The reality is much more mundane: as intuition would lead you, high performance aircraft see a higher incidence than slow, training aircraft.
While such accidents are very rare indeed a quick search of NTSB accident/incident reports (search for the term "post crash fire" in the text of reports) demonstrates this in the chart to the right.
General Aviation Safety in Automotive Terms
All of these aviation statistics, however, do not give you a sense of “just how safe is it?”. Accidents per flight hour or percentage of the fleet (this web site!) do not allow discussions with lay-people or to develop a feel for how safe, or otherwise, general aviation might be.
A quick summary
is that general aviation has a fatal accident rate about ten times that of cars. But less than half that of motorcycles. Airline and business aviation is extraordinarily safe.
The Operating Safely page looks at this in more detail. It reviews an example where Cirrus' are flown as safely as cars and discusses how you can fly your Cirrus, or other general aviation aircraft, with similar results.