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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 April 21; 334(7598): 822.
PMCID: PMC1853204
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Pilot your plane safely

In the United States, there are more than 200 000 non-commercial civilian small airplanes and private pilots. When the weather and visibility are good, the guiding principle of operating such a plane is “see and avoid.” But when visibility is reduced, pilots are expected to navigate and operate the plane using instruments.

However, it is not mandatory for private pilots to have an “instrument rating”—that is, be trained and licensed for operating the plane under instrument flight rules. Perhaps not surprisingly, pilots who don't have an instrument rating have a fourfold increased risk of being in a plane crash during poor weather conditions than pilots who do have an instrument rating.

Other risk factors for being involved in a crash include operating the plane under the influence of alcohol, inexperience, older age, male sex, non-conformist flying behaviour, and a history of previous crashes and violation records.

In four out of five crashes no one dies, but not wearing safety restraints increases by fourfold the pilot's risk of dying, and fire during the crash increases it 14-fold. Equipping planes with new technologies such as crash resistant fuel systems would greatly reduce this excess risk, but legislation requires safety improvements only for entirely new models. Interestingly, doctors who are pilots crash their planes more than other pilots.


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