Pilot error in air carrier accidents: Does age matter?

Guohua Li, Jurek G. Grabowski, Susan P. Baker, George W. Rebok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Introduction: The relationship between pilot age and safety performance has been the subject of research and controversy since the "Age 60 Rule" became effective in 1960. This study aimed to examine age-related differences in the prevalence and patterns of pilot error in air carrier accidents. Methods: Investigation reports from the National Transportation Safety Board for accidents involving Part 121 operations in the United States between 1983 and 2002 were reviewed to identify pilot error and other contributing factors. Accident circumstances and the presence and type of pilot error were analyzed in relation to pilotage using Chi-square tests. Results: Of the 558 air carrier accidents studied, 25% resulted from turbulence, 21% from mechanical failure, 16% from taxiing events, 13% from loss of control at landing or takeoff, and 25% from other causes. Accidents involving older pilots were more likely to be caused by turbulence, whereas accidents involving younger pilots were more likely to be taxiing events. Pilot error was a contributing factor in 34%, 38%, 35%, and 34% of the accidents involving pilots ages 25-34 yr, 35-44 yr, 45-54 yr, and 55-59 yr, respectively (p = 0.87). The patterns of pilot error were similar across age groups. Overall, 26% of the pilot errors identified were inattentiveness, 22% flawed decisions, 22% mishandled aircraft kinetics, and 11% poor crew interactions. Conclusion: The prevalence and patterns of pilot error in air carrier accidents do not seem to change with pilot age. The lack of association between pilot age and error may be due to the "safe worker effect" resulting from the rigorous selection processes and certification standards for professional pilots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)737-741
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Aging
  • Aviation
  • Epidemiology
  • Human factors
  • Safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Pilot error in air carrier accidents: Does age matter?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this