Flying can be one of the most exhilarating things that you’ll ever do. But it can also be incredibly dangerous if things go wrong. How many pilots die every year?
According to information published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an average of 52.2 deaths per every 100,000 pilots; this is a fatality rate of 0.0522%. Combined with information from the Federal Aviation Administration, an average of 383 pilots die every year in the US.
If something goes catastrophically wrong while flying any type of plane, the results can be devastating. Some people are afraid to become a pilot because of the fear of something going wrong and potentially losing their lives. In this article, we’ll take a look at how many pilots die every year, what the main causes of these deaths are, and how you can do everything you can as a pilot to reduce the chance of death.
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How Many Pilots Lose Their Lives Every Year?
Many people are afraid to fly in an airplane simply because they’re afraid that something will go wrong and the plane will crash. And let’s be honest, a plane crash is a terrifying thing to think about if you’re planning on flying in any capacity, much less if you’re planning on becoming a pilot yourself.
That said, I wouldn’t let the fear of dying be enough to prevent you from becoming a pilot in and of itself! That’s because dying as a pilot is actually very rare; but then again dying in any career is actually very rare. It just comes down to what the actual numbers are and what level of risk you’re comfortable with. So let’s take a quick look at the raw data and see just how many pilots really do die every year.
As a note, we are of course only interested in pilot deaths that result directly due to something that happened that’s related to flying. While significantly more people likely die every year with a pilot license from natural causes or other unrelated activities, that wouldn’t really be relevant here! With that out of the way, let’s dive into the data. You just might be surprised with what the fatality rate truly is.
What Is The Pilot Fatality Rate In The US?
For the sake of transparency, I will be pulling the following data directly from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS published an article in 2019 with raw data over a six year period from 2012 through 2017 with information about pilot fatality rate and how it compares to other occupations. Here’s what the report from the BLS has to say.
Here’s the breakdown of the number of fatalities per 100,000 pilots every year during the reported timeframe:
According to the data from the BLS, the average fatality rate for pilots over that six year span was 52.2 deaths per 100,000 pilots. That comes out to a fatality rate of just 0.052%. Perhaps an easier way to imagine this number is like this: at this rate, this suggests that 1 out of every 1,923 pilots in the US died due to workplace related incidents.
Depending on what you were expecting to see, this rate might either seem higher or low. But how does that actually relate to the total number of pilots that die per year? That requires us to know how many pilots there are. Thankfully, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compiles a survey every year with this information.
According to the Civil Airmen Survey for 2020, there are currently 691,691 civilian pilots in the United States. If we include the total number of military pilots, the number rises to 734,911 pilots total. Keep in mind that this number includes civilian pilots, military pilots, and a significant number of student pilots (222,629).
But the key to this comparison is that the information from the BLS only has to do with commercial pilots. So the fatality rate of 0.052% is only the rate for commercial pilots, not the total number of pilots in the country. Based on the information from the FAA survey, we know there are 103,879 commercial pilots in the US. With the fatality rate from the BLS in mind, this means that roughly 54 pilots die every year.
If we were to extrapolate further and use the same rate for the total number of pilots in the United States, the number of fatalities would seem fairly high. With a total of 734,991 pilots, this fatality rate would indicate that 383 pilots die every year across the country. Without having data on the fatality rate of private pilots, this is hard to confirm or deny. But this should give you an idea of how many pilots die per year.
How Does Pilot Fatality Rate Compare To Other Careers?
No matter how you personally feel about the fatality rate associated with being a pilot, whether it’s higher or lower than you expected, there’s one way to get an idea of how dangerous being a pilot is. And that’s to compare the fatality rate seen here to the rate of other occupations in the country.
Using the same information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the average fatality rate per 100,000 full-time workers of all occupations per year during the same timespan:
As you can see from this table, the average fatality rate of all occupations across the country over this six year timespan was 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. This comes out to a rate of 0.0034%. To make the same comparison that you saw above, this means that 1 out of every 29,412 full-time workers in the United States dies every year due to a workplace related accident or injury.
This means that being a pilot is a little more than 15x more dangerous than the national average in terms of fatality rate. It’s also worth noting that many plane crashes and deaths are caused by pilot error of some sort. That means that much of the risk comes down to you and your ability as a pilot and your decision to be the best pilot you can be every time you fly.
So in the end it will just come down to if you’re comfortable with the data and the risks associated with being a pilot. In my humble opinion, it’s well worth any additional risks as being a pilot is simply the best career in the world. But I might be just a little bit biased!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood