Pilot error in air carrier mishaps: Longitudinal trends among 558 reports, 1983-2002

Susan P. Baker, Yandong Qiang, George W. Rebok, Guohua Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Many interventions have been implemented in recent decades to reduce pilot error in flight operations. This study aims to identify longitudinal trends in the prevalence and patterns of pilot error and other factors in U.S. air carrier mishaps. Method: National Transportation Safety Board investigation reports were examined for 558 air carrier mishaps during 1983-2002. Pilot errors and circumstances of mishaps were described and categorized. Rates were calculated per 10 million flights. Results: The overall mishap rate remained fairly stable, but the proportion of mishaps involving pilot error decreased from 42% in 1983-87 to 25% in 1998-2002, a 40% reduction. The rate of mishaps related to poor decisions declined from 6.2 to 1.8 per 10 million flights, a 71% reduction; much of this decrease was due to a 76% reduction in poor decisions related to weather. Mishandling wind or runway conditions declined by 78%. The rate of mishaps involving poor crew interaction declined by 68%. Mishaps during takeoff declined by 70%, from 5.3 to 1.6 per 10 million flights. The latter reduction was offset by an increase in mishaps while the aircraft was standing, from 2.5 to 6.0 per 10 million flights, and during pushback, which increased from 0 to 3.1 per 10 million flights. Conclusions: Reductions in pilot errors involving decision making and crew coordination are important trends that may reflect improvements in training and technological advances that facilitate good decisions. Mishaps while aircraft are standing and during pushback have increased and deserve special attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-6
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Airline crashes
  • Crew interaction
  • Pilot decisions
  • Pilot error rates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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