Male pilots flying general aviation (private) aircraft in the United States are more likely to crash due to inattention or flawed decision making, while female pilots are more likely to crash from mishandling the aircraft, according to a study by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study, published in the May issue of Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, identifies the differences between male and female pilots in terms of circumstances of the crash and the type of pilot error involved.
"Crashes of general aviation aircraft account for 85 percent of all aviation deaths in the United States. The crash rate for male pilots, like motor vehicle crashes, exceeds that of crashes of female pilots," explains Susan P. Baker, professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School. "Because pilot youth and inexperience are established contributors to aviation crashes, we focused only on mature pilots, to determine the gender differences in the reasons for the crash."
The researchers extracted data for this study from a larger research project on pilot aging and flight safety. The data were gathered from general aviation crashes of airplanes and helicopters between 1983 and 1997, involving 144 female pilots and 287 male pilots ages 40-63. Female pilots were matched with male pilots in a 1:2 ratio, by age, classes of medical and pilot certificates, state or area of crash and year of crash. Then the circumstances of the crashes and the pilot error involved were categorized and coded without knowledge of pilot gender.
The researchers found that loss of control on landing or takeoff was the most common circumstance for both sexes, leading to 59 percent of female pilots' crashes and 36 percent of males'. Experiencing mechanical failure, running out of fuel and landing the plane with the landing gear up were among the factors more likely with males, while stalling was more likely with females.
The majority of the crashes--95 percent for females and 88 percent for males--involved at least one type of pilot error. Mishandling aircraft kinetics, such as incorrect use of the rudder, poor response to a bounce or inability to recover from a stall, was the most common error for both sexes but was more prevalent among females (accounting for 81 percent of the crashes) than males (accounting for 48 percent). Males, however, appeared more likely to be guilty of poor decision making, risk taking and inattentiveness, examples of which include misjudging weather and visibility or flying an aircraft with a known defect. Females, though more likely to mishandle or lose control of an airplane or helicopter, were generally more cautious and conscientious than their more venturesome male counterparts.
Among other differences noted by the study: Older pilots (ages 55-63) made fewer errors than younger pilots (40-49); male pilots had twice as much flight time as female pilots; crashes of male pilots had more serious consequences, including fatalities; and females were slightly more apt to use a shoulder restraint than males.
"Our study reveals several gender differences in the types of pilot error involved in general aviation crashes," Baker concludes. "In order to improve training of pilots, the most common errors--mishandling aircraft kinetics, poor decision making, and inattention--merit increased consideration." However, researchers note that there always will be some pilots who make errors, and therefore preventive strategies should go beyond improved pilot training to include all aspects of the aviation environment.