Longevity and Survival Analysis for a Cohort of Retired Airline Pilots
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Longevity and Survival Analysis for a Cohort of Retired Airline Pilots

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    There is a popular belief in the aviation industry that retired pilots die at a younger age than the general population. If this belief is in fact, correct, research into the factors or events precipitating an early mortality among retired airline crew members could be of interest to the FAA. Few studies have addressed the question "Do retired airline pilots die at a younger age than their 60 year-old counterparts in the U.S. population?" Airline pilots reach the mandatory retirement age of 60 after an entire career of active health monitoring and maintenance required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

    In this study, a preliminary survey was made to determine the mortality and survival profile of retired pilots from a major U.S. airline. An initial sample of 2209 retired pilots and flight engineers was surveyed. Early and late retirees were dropped from the sample, leaving us with 1494 pilots who retired at age 60 between the study dates of April 1968 to July 1993. The Life Table Method was identified as the most suitable approach to analyze the pattern of mortality for this data set. Life Table analysis provides estimates of probabilities of surviving a given number of years after retirement. This technique allows subjects to enter (i.e., retire at age 60) or leave the study (i.e., die) at different points in time and it utilizes all the data on partial exposure to the risk of dying. It is non-parametric and requires no assumptions about the distribution of the survival function.

    Due to the anonymity of our sampling and other resultant assumptions, comparisons were made with the 1980 census of the U.S. general population of 60 year-old white males. A difference in life expectancy of more than 5 years longer was found for our sample of retired airline cockpit crew members. Half of the pilots in this sample retiring at age 60 were expected to live past 83.8 years of age, compared to 77.4 years for the general population of 60 year-old white males in 1980. The authors concluded that the question of lowered life expectancy for airline cockpit crews was not supported by the results of this particular data set.

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