Background: The USAF devotes great financial and medical assets to the identification and evaluation of USAF aircrew who have been grounded from flying duties for medical conditions thought to be dangerous to the flying mission or personal safety. The purpose of this study is to update the literature and to demonstrate that USAF efforts during the past 19 yr have improved our ability to retain experienced aviators.
Methods: The USAF waiver file was reviewed to quantify the number of USAF pilots and navigators receiving permanent medical disqualifications from flying duties during 1995-1999. We identified 157 cases, which were stratified by age group and sex.
Results: The number of disqualifications increased incrementally by age group. The most common diagnoses resulting in permanent disqualification were coronary artery disease, hypertension, back pain and disk abnormalities, migraine headaches, diabetes mellitus, and substance/alcohol abuse.
Discussion: These results are very similar to those reported in a 1984 USAF study and other studies of aviation populations. The rate of permanent flying disqualifications in this study was equal to 0.18% per year compared to 4.1% per year in 1984. This decrease in the rate of disqualifications could be due to modification of USAF standards, utilization of clinical management groups, better screening of applicants, new technology or therapies, and effective preventive medicine efforts throughout the Air Force.