The Need for Aerospace Structural Health Monitoring A review of aircraft fatigue accidents



Published Mar 24, 2021
Graham Wild Luke Pollock Ayah Khalid Abdelwahab John Murray


Aircraft accidents involving catastrophic fatigue failure have the potential for significant loss of life. The aim of this research was to investigate trends in aircraft fatigue failure accidents to inform aerospace Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) system Research and Development (R&D). The research involved collecting 139 aircraft fatigue failure accident reports from the Aviation Safety Network database, which were coded using a directed content analysis. The trends and features of the categorical data were then explored using an ex-post facto study. The results showed that fatigue failure accidents have increased at a rate of (3.4 ± 0.6)×10-2 per year since the 1920’s. Over the period of the study there were 2098 fatalities in 57 fatal accidents, giving (15.1 ± 1.6) fatalities per accident and a fatal accident percentage of (45 ± 10)%. The data indicates that engine failures combined with smaller aircraft and operators should be the focus of SHM R&D. While there is a desire to further improve safety for large transport category aircraft, results indicate that smaller aircraft and operators have seen a relative increase in fatigue failure accidents, and hence are also in need of SHM systems. Engine and undercarriage systems have the greatest number of fatigue failure accidents associated with them, suggesting these should be the focus of SHM R&D.

Abstract 41667 | PDF Downloads 1850



aviation safety; airworthiness; aircraft accidents; fatigue; structural health monitoring

ATSB. (2007). How old is too old? The impact of ageing aircraft on aviation safety. (B20050205). Canberra, Australia: Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Aviation Safety Network. (2020). ASN Aviation Safety Database. Retrieved from
Ayiei, A., Murray, J., & Wild, G. (2020). Visual Flight into Instrument Meteorological Condition: A Post Accident Analysis. Safety, 6(2), 19.
Berkovits, A. (1995). Estimation of loads causing fatigue failures in accident investigations. Engineering failure analysis, 2(3), 215-226.
Berman, E., & Wang, X. (2011). Essential Statistics for Public Managers and Policy Analysts: SAGE Publications.
Bohacova, M. (2013). Methodology of short fatigue crack detection by the eddy current method in a multi-layered metal aircraft structure. Engineering failure analysis, 35, 597-608.
BTRE. (2006). Cost of Aviation Accidents and Incidents. (BTRE Report 113). Canberra, Australia: Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics.
Campbell, F. C. (2012a). 1.1 Industrial Significance of Fatigue Fatigue and Fracture - Understanding the Basics: ASM International.
Campbell, F. C. (2012b). 3. Ductile and Brittle Fracture Fatigue and Fracture - Understanding the Basics: ASM International.
Campbell, F. C. (2012c). 5.1 Stress Cycles Fatigue and Fracture - Understanding the Basics: ASM International.
Campbell, F. C. (2012d). 10. Fatigue and Fracture of Continuous-Fiber Polymer-Matrix Composites Fatigue and Fracture - Understanding the Basics: ASM International.
Campbell, G. S. (1981). A note on fatal aircraft accidents involving metal fatigue. International Journal of Fatigue, 3(4), 181-185.
Campbell, G. S., & Lahey, R. (1984). A survey of serious aircraft accidents involving fatigue fracture. International Journal of Fatigue, 6(1), 25-30.
Civil Aviation Act. (1988). Civil Aviation Regulations. Canberra, Australia: Federal Register of Legislation
Drury, C. G., Prabhu, P., & Gramopadhye, A. (1990). Task analysis of aircraft inspection activities: methods and findings. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Human Factors Society Annual Meeting.
Ejaz, N., Salam, I., & Tauqir, A. (2007). An air crash due to failure of compressor rotor. Engineering failure analysis, 14(5), 831-840.
FAA, F. A. A.-. (2018). Aircraft Maintenance Techniques General Handbook.
Findlay, S., & Harrison, N. (2002). Why aircraft fail. Materials today, 5(11), 18-25.
Giurgiutiu, V. (2014). Challenges and Opportunities for Structural Health Monitoring in PVP Applications. Paper presented at the Pressure Vessels and Piping Conference.
Goranson, U. G. (1998). Fatigue issues in aircraft maintenance and repairs. International Journal of Fatigue, 20(6), 413-431.
Helmreich, R. (1992). Human factors aspects of the Air Ontario crash at Dryden, Ontario: Analysis and recommendations. VP Moshansky (Commissioner), Commission oflnquiiy into the Air Ontario Accident at Diyden, Ontario: Final report. Technical appendices, 3.
Hollnagel, E. (2004). Barriers and accident prevention. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277-1288. doi:10.1177/1049732305276687
Infante, V., Fernandes, L., Freitas, M., & Baptista, R. (2017). Failure analysis of a nose landing gear fork. Engineering failure analysis, 82, 554-565.
Infante, V., Silva, J., Silvestre, M., & Baptista, R. (2013). Failure of a crankshaft of an aeroengine: A contribution for an accident investigation. Engineering failure analysis, 35, 286-293.
Jones, R., Pitt, S., Constable, T., & Farahmand, B. (2011). Observations on fatigue crack growth in a range of materials. Materials & Design, 32(8-9), 4362-4368.
Khan, F. N., Ayiei, A., Murray, J., Baxter, G., & Wild, G. (2020). A Preliminary Investigation of Maintenance Contributions to Commercial Air Transport Accidents. Aerospace, 7(9), 129.
Kharoufah, H., Murray, J., Baxter, G., & Wild, G. (2018). A review of human factors causations in commercial air transport accidents and incidents: From to 2000–2016. Progress in Aerospace Sciences, 99, 1-13. doi:
Kubryn, M., Gruszecki, H., Pieróg, L., Chodur, J., Pietruszka, J., & Brzęczek, J. (2018). The Fatigue Life of Cables in Aircraft Flight Control Systems. Fatigue of Aircraft Structures, 2018(10), 53-62.
Le May, I. (2010). Case Studies of three fatigue failure evaluations in aircraft. Procedia Engineering, 2(1), 59-64.
Leedy, P., & Ormrod, J. E. (2013). Practical Research: Planning and Design (10th ed.). Boston, U.S.A: Pearson Education Inc.
Lourenço, N., Graça, M., Franco, L., & Silva, O. (2008). Fatigue failure of a compressor blade. Engineering failure analysis, 15(8), 1150-1154.
Lourenco, N., Von Dollinger, C., Graça, M., & de Campos, P. (2005). Failure analysis of the main rotor grip of a civil helicopter. Engineering failure analysis, 12(1), 43-47.
Miller, R. J. (2000). 6.10 - Design Approaches for High Temperature Composite Aeroengine Components. In A. Kelly & C. Zweben (Eds.), Comprehensive Composite Materials (pp. 181-207). Oxford: Pergamon.
O'Hare, D. (2000). The ‘Wheel of Misfortune’: a taxonomic approach to human factors in accident investigation and analysis in aviation and other complex systems. Ergonomics, 43(12), 2001-2019. doi:10.1080/00140130050201445
Price, D., Scott, D., Edwards, G., Batten, A., Farmer, A., Hedley, M., . . . Prokopenko, M. (2003). An integrated health monitoring system for an ageless aerospace vehicle. In F.-K. Chang (Ed.), Structural Health Monitoring 2003: From Diagnostics & Prognostics to Structural Health Management (pp. 310-318). Lancaster PA: DESTech Publications.
RuthAS. (1953). DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYX of BOAC at Heathrow Creative Commons Attribution. Wikimedia: Wikimedia Foundation.
Salam, I., Tauqir, A., Haq, A. U., & Khan, A. Q. (1998). An air crash due to fatigue failure of a ball bearing. Engineering failure analysis, 5(4), 261-269.
Schijve, J. (1994). Fatigue of aircraft materials and structures. International Journal of Fatigue, 16(1), 21-32.
Schijve, J. (2009). Fatigue damage in aircraft structures, not wanted, but tolerated? International Journal of Fatigue, 31(6), 998-1011.
Schütz, W. (1996). A history of fatigue. Engineering Fracture Mechanics, 54(2), 263-300. doi:
Silliman, J. P. (2009). Aviation Accident Final Report Number (CHI08LA144). Washington, DC: National Transportation Safety Board
Slattery, J. C., & Cizmas, P. G. A. (2018). Macro-scale fatigue fracture analysis of multiphase bodies, aircraft design, and catastrophic failure: Two aircraft accidents. Engineering Fracture Mechanics, 199, 274-279. doi:
Sujata, M., Madan, M., & Bhaumik, S. (2014). Investigation of failure in main fuel pump of an aeroengine. Engineering failure analysis, 42, 377-389.
Sujata, M., Madan, M., Raghavendra, K., Jagannathan, N., & Bhaumik, S. (2019). Unraveling the cause of an aircraft accident. Engineering failure analysis, 97, 740-758.
Tauqir, A., Salam, I., Haq, A. U., & Khan, A. Q. (2000). Causes of fatigue failure in the main bearing of an aero-engine. Engineering failure analysis, 7(2), 127-144.
Wanhill, R., Molent, L., Barter, S., & Amsterdam, E. (2015). Milestone case histories in aircraft structural integrity.
Wild, G., Gavin, K., Murray, J., Silva, J., & Baxter, G. (2017). A post-accident analysis of civil remotely-piloted aircraft system accidents and incidents. Journal of Aerospace Technology and Management, 9(2), 157-168.
Wild, G., Murray, J., & Baxter, G. (2016). Exploring Civil Drone Accidents and Incidents to Help Prevent Potential Air Disasters. Aerospace, 3(3), 22.
Withey, P. A. (1997). Fatigue failure of the de Havilland comet I. Engineering failure analysis, 4(2), 147-154.
Zimmermann, N., & Wang, P. H. (2020). A review of failure modes and fracture analysis of aircraft composite materials. Engineering failure analysis, 115, 104692.
Zotov, D. (1996). Reporting human factors accidents. Paper presented at the ISASI Forum.
Technical Papers