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