Objective: Flight crew are exposed to several potential occupational hazards. This study compares mortality rates in UK flight crew to those in air traffic control officers (ATCOs) and the general population.
Methods: A total of 19,489 flight crew and ATCOs were identified from the UK Civil Aviation Authority medical records and followed to the end of 2006. Consented access to medical records and questionnaire data provided information on demographic, behavioral, clinical, and occupational variables. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) were estimated for these two occupational groups using the UK general population. Adjusted mortality hazard ratios (HR) for flight crew versus ATCOs were estimated via Cox regression models.
Results: A total of 577 deaths occurred during follow-up. Relative to the general population, both flight crew (SMR 0.32; 95% CI 0.30, 0.35) and ATCOs (0.39; 0.32, 0.47) had lower all-cause mortality, mainly due to marked reductions in mortality from neoplasms and cardiovascular diseases, although flight crew had higher mortality from aircraft accidents (SMR 42.8; 27.9, 65.6). There were no differences in all-cause mortality (HR 0.99; 95% CI 0.79, 1.25), or in mortality from any major cause, between the two occupational groups after adjustment for health-related variables, again except for those from aircraft accidents. The latter ratios, however, declined with increasing number of hours.
Conclusions: The low all-cause mortality observed in both occupational groups relative to the general population is consistent with a strong "healthy worker effect" and their low prevalence of smoking and other risk factors. Mortality among flight crew did not appear to be influenced by occupational exposures, except for a rise in mortality from aircraft accidents.