Retired pilots die earlier than the rest of the population

60% of 282 retired airline pilots included in a recent study died within five years of leaving their jobs, according to an international pilots organization.

Officials of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Assns., which met in Washington, refused to speculate on the reasons for the large proportion of untimely deaths but said they have begun a worldwide study of the matter.

Mike M. Clarke, a pilot for British Airways and a vice president of the group, said he had based the initial study on pilot retirement records spanning the period 1953 to mid-1988.

Clarke said: “I told the pilots at the meeting (in Washington) that 60% of them would not be around when they were 65 years old.” The longevity figures for the pilots are markedly worse than for the rest of the population.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the overall average life expectancy for Americans 60 years old is 20.4 years. At 65 it is 14.7 years for men and 18.6 years for women.

Even though the original study–conducted by Clarke in Britain, Canada and Argentina–involved only the 282 pilots, the findings were surprising.

For one thing, Clarke said, pilots must undergo complete physical examinations before they begin work and subsequently must take physicals twice a year. Thus, if they have any illness, it is found much sooner than it is among the general public. Moreover, airline pilots retire at age 60 or earlier.

Though there has been continued controversy in the UK about the early retirement age for airline pilots, some other countries have even lower retirement ages. Retirement for pilots of British Airways, for example, is 55, and most other European airlines ground pilots at between 57 and 60.

The IFALPA study has been mailed to its member organizations, which will distribute and collect them from their members. When all of them have been returned and that is expected in June, they will be analyzed independently by the British Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation, which also helped write them.

The survey, which will be anonymous, asks 47 questions of pilots, including:

  • the kind of planes flown
  • the pilot’s age
  • sex
  • rank
  • whether the flights are long haul or short haul
  • how well they sleep away from home
  • whether they take medication to sleep
  • how they feel at the end of a flight
  • whether they smoke
  • drink
  • take drugs
  • how their flying career has affected their sex lives
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