British Airways flightdeck mortality study, 1950-1992

Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999 Jun;70(6):548-55.


Objective: To study the mortality and life expectancy of male British Airways flightdeck crew and to establish whether proportionate mortality excesses shown earlier for brain/CNS cancer, colon cancer and melanoma remained evident.

Methods: A Standardized Mortality Ratio study (SMR) using England and Wales as the comparison population was carried out for 6209 male pilots and 1153 male flight engineers employed for at least 1 yr between January 1, 1950 and December 31, 1992. Internal relative risk comparisons were made between shorthaul and longhaul operations defined broadly as flights within Europe and beyond Europe, respectively.

Results: The all-causes SMR for pilots of 61 (592 deaths) and 56 for flight engineers (127 deaths) confirmed the expected Healthy Worker Effect. In pilots apart from the known excess of deaths from aircraft accidents (SMR 14694), most of the comparisons showed significant deficits in mortality. The SMR's for brain/CNS cancer (143) and colon cancer (111) were no longer statistically significant. The SMR of 333 for melanoma was significantly raised in pilots but was not evident in flight engineers. Life expectancy for longhaul pilots and flight engineers was 4-5 yr better than England and Wales for ages 55-65 while the advantage for shorthaul pilots was reduced to between 2-3 yr. Cases of leukemia and aleukaemia in pilots were less than expected and less than the positive excess predicted from modeling based on radiation dose.

Conclusion: The study confirms that flightdeck crew live longer than the England and Wales population and do not exhibit patterns of death that could be directly attributable to occupation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Aviation / mortality*
  • Aerospace Medicine*
  • Aged
  • Aviation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cause of Death*
  • Healthy Worker Effect
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology