Introduction: General aviation missions related to furtherance of business potentially carry higher risk (operations in adverse weather, at night, for longer distances) than those undertaken for recreation. The study herein was undertaken to determine fatal accident rates, proportions, and risk factors/causes.

Method: The National Transportation Safety Board aviation accident database was queried for accidents (1996–2015). Annual fleet times were from the general aviation annual activity survey. Statistical analyses used Poisson distributions, proportion testing, and Cohen’s Kappa tests.

Results: The fatal accident rate for business operations was three- to six-fold lower than the rate for recreational flights with a decline evident between 1996 and 2015. However, a higher proportion of business-related accidents were fatal (33%) compared with recreational flight mishaps (22%). Business-related, fatal accidents were over-represented for operations of longer flight distance, non-daylight hours, and degraded visibility. The most frequent accident cause categories were a deficiency in pilot skills/experience/systems knowledge (45%) and violation of the federal aviation regulations (e.g. departure into instrument conditions without an instrument flight plan, flight into known/forecast icing) (26%).

Conclusion: Despite the fatal accident rate declining for business-related missions, the proportion of fatal mishaps was higher than that for recreational flights.

Practical application: Towards enhancing safety (a) flight reviews should discuss alternate flight planning to circumvent the hazards of night operations, adverse weather, and fatigue, (b) pilots should be encouraged to participate in additional training, e.g. the FAAST program, and (c) pilots should avail themselves of aviation training devices for maintaining instrument proficiency.