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Watchlist 2012

Collisions with land and water

Added to the Watchlist on 16 August 2010


Fatalities continue to occur when planes collide with land and water while under crew control.


Collisions with land and water occur when an airworthy aircraft under the control of the pilot is inadvertently flown into the ground, water, or an obstacle. In these cases, pilots are unaware of the danger until it is too late. This type of accident often happens when visibility is low, at night, or during poor weather. Such conditions reduce a pilot's situational awareness of surroundings and make it difficult to tell whether the aircraft is too close to the ground. The risk is even greater for small aircraft, which venture further into remote wilderness or into mountainous terrain, but are not required to have the same ground proximity warning equipment as large airliners.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has investigated numerous collisions with land and water, and has identified deficiencies, made findings, and issued a recommendation on installing ground proximity warning systems in smaller aircraft.Footnote 1 The Board has also recommended procedural changes during non-precision approaches, which would further reduce approach and landing accidents.Footnote 2

Collisions with land and water account for 5% of accidents, but nearly 25% of all fatalities. Between 2000 and 2009, there were 129 accidents of this type in Canada, resulting in 128 fatalities. Since the TSB first placed this issue on its Watchlist, the number of accidents of this type every year has not gone down. In 2010, there were 13; in 2011, there were 14.

Transport Canada is now introducing regulatory amendments that will require terrain awareness warning systems for commercial aeroplanes with six or more passenger seats, and in turbine-powered private aeroplanes. However, until these regulations are in force, and this equipment is installed, the residual risk to Canadians will remain, and the Board believes that this issue should continue to receive attention.


Improved non-precision approach procedures, along with a wider use of technology, are required to reduce the number of this type of accident.