The number of airline mishaps attributed to pilot
error significantly declined between 1983 and
2002, according to an analysis conducted by researchers at
the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of
While the overall rate of airline mishaps remained
stable during that time, the proportion of
mishaps involving pilot error decreased 40 percent. The
rate of mishaps related to a pilot's poor
decision making declined 71 percent. The researchers
attribute the decline to better training and
improvements in technology that aid pilot decision making.
The findings are published in the January
edition of Aviation, Space, and Environmental
"A 40 percent decline in pilot error-related mishaps
is very impressive. Pilot error has long been
considered the most prominent contributor to aviation
crashes," said the study's lead author, Susan P.
Baker, a professor with the Johns
Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the
Bloomberg School's Department
of Health Policy and Management.
In the 558 airline mishaps examined in their study,
Baker and her colleagues also looked at the
circumstances of pilot error, which they characterized as
carelessness on the part of the pilot and
crew, flawed decision making, mishandling of the aircraft
or poor crew interaction.
In other key findings, the authors determined the
Mishaps related to bad weather
— the most common decision-making error —
dropped 76 percent.
Mishaps caused by mishandling wind
or runway conditions declined 78 percent.
Mishaps caused by poor crew
interaction declined 68 percent.
Pilot error was most common during
taxiing, takeoff, final approach and landing of the
The rate of mishaps increased the
most when aircraft were being pushed back from the gate or
standing still, but pilot error was least common in such
Mishaps during takeoff declined 70
While the overall rate of pilot error mishaps
declined, the reductions were offset by increases
in mishaps that did not involve error by pilots; some
involved errors by air traffic control or ground
crews. The researchers also noted that there is a need to
improve safety during the times when the
aircraft is motionless on the ground or being pushed back
from the gate. The study found that
mishaps during these times more than doubled from a rate of
2.5 to 6 mishaps per 10 million flights.
"Trends indicate that great progress has been made to
improve the decision making of pilots
and coordination between the aircraft's crew members.
However, the improvements have not led to an
overall decline in mishaps. The increase in mishaps while
aircraft are not moving may require special
attention," Baker said.
The study was written by Baker, Yandong Qiang, George
W. Rebok and Guohua Li.
The research was supported by grants from the National
Institute on Aging at the National
Institutes of Health and by the Center for Injury Research
and Prevention at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.