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, George W. Rebok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)874-880
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2003


  • Accidents, aviation
  • Aging
  • Aviation
  • Cohort studies
  • Safety
  • Wounds and injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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