Journal Article

Age, Flight Experience, and Risk of Crash Involvement in a Cohort of Professional Pilots

Guohua Li, Susan P. Baker, Jurek G. Grabowski, Yandong Qiang, Melissa L. McCarthy and George W. Rebok

in American Journal of Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Volume 157, issue 10, pages 874-880
Published in print May 2003 | ISSN: 0002-9262
Published online May 2003 | e-ISSN: 1476-6256 | DOI:
Age, Flight Experience, and Risk of Crash Involvement in a Cohort of Professional Pilots

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Federal aviation regulations prohibit airline pilots from flying beyond the age of 60 years. However, the relation between pilot age and flight safety has not been rigorously assessed using empirical data. From 1987 to 1997, the authors followed a cohort of 3,306 commuter air carrier and air taxi pilots who were aged 45–54 years in 1987. During the follow-up period, the pilots accumulated a total of 12.9 million flight hours and 66 aviation crashes, yielding a rate of 5.1 crashes per million pilot flight hours. Crash risk remained fairly stable as the pilots aged from their late forties to their late fifties. Flight experience, as measured by total flight time at baseline, showed a significant protective effect against the risk of crash involvement. With adjustment for age, pilots who had 5,000–9,999 hours of total flight time at baseline had a 57% lower risk of a crash than their less experienced counterparts (relative risk = 0.43, 95% confidence interval: 0.21, 0.87). The protective effect of flight experience leveled off after total flight time reached 10,000 hours. The lack of an association between pilot age and crash risk may reflect a strong “healthy worker effect” stemming from the rigorous medical standards and periodic physical examinations required for professional pilots.

Keywords: accidents, aviation; aging; aviation; cohort studies; safety; wounds and injuries; Abbreviations: CFR, Code of Federal Regulations; FAA, Federal Aviation Administration; NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board.

Journal Article.  4624 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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