Factors associated with pilot error in aviation crashes

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2001 Jan;72(1):52-8.


Background: The importance of pilot error in aviation crashes has long been recognized. However, understanding and preventing pilot error remains the foremost challenge in aviation safety.

Objective: This study aims to identify pilot characteristics and crash circumstances that are associated with the presence of pilot error in a large sample of aviation crashes.

Methods: Different data files compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board for 329 major airline crashes, 1,627 commuter/air taxi crashes, and 27,935 general aviation crashes for the years 1983-96 were merged; and the presence of pilot error was analyzed in relation to variables indicating the characteristics of the pilot-in-command, crash circumstance, and aircraft. Multivariate logistic regression modeling was performed to assess the associations of individual variables with the likelihood of pilot error given a crash.

Results: Pilot error was a probable cause in 38% of the major airline crashes, 74% of the commuter/air taxi crashes, and 85% of the general aviation crashes. Among the factors examined, instrument meteorological condition and on-airport location were each associated with a significantly increased odds of pilot error. The likelihood of pilot error decreased as pilot certificate rating increased in commuter/air taxi and general aviation crashes. Neither pilot age nor gender was independently associated with the odds of pilot error. With adjustment for pilot characteristics and crash circumstances, flight experience as measured in total flight time showed a significant protective effect on pilot error in general aviation crashes.

Conclusions: The prevalence and correlates of pilot error in aviation crashes vary with the type of flight operations. Adverse weather is consistently associated with a significantly elevated likelihood of pilot error, possibly due to increased performance demand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Aviation*
  • Adult
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Weather*