Study: Gender Differences in Plane Crashes

Air crashes involving female pilots are mostly due to mishandling of the plane, while those with male pilots are more often due to flawed decision-making and inattention, a study found.

Flying planes with known mechanical problems, running out of fuel and landing with the gear up were typically male problems, said the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health study released last week.

Women's crashes were more often due to incorrect use of the rudder, poor response to a bounce or inability to recover from a stall, the study found.

"Males trade accuracy for speed," said professor Susan Baker, the study's co-author. "They would rather do something faster even if they don't do it accurately.

"Women tend to be more cautious and pay greater attention to details and rules."

The authors said women may have mishandled planes because they had less flight time and experience on average than men.

The study in this month's issue of Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine was prompted in part by the more than 30-fold increase in the number of female airline pilots in the United States since 1959.

Officials of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration would not comment on the study.

Hopkins scholars looked at crashes of civilian, noncommercial planes from 1983 to 1997 involving 144 female and 287 male pilots over 40 years of age.

Aircraft mishandling was the most common problem for both men and women, but was blamed in 80 percent of female pilots' crashes and just 48 percent of men's.

Flawed decision-making, such as misjudging weather or flying planes with mechanical defects, was responsible in about 29 percent of male crashes compared with 19 percent of women's. Inattention was a factor in 32 percent of male crashes but about 19 percent for women.

Crashes are often the result of more than one error, the researchers noted.

Lloyd Coleman of Beacon Flying Service said the depiction of men as hot-dogging mavericks and women as incompetent "borders on the stereotypical."

"You really can't say what happened in a crash because you weren't there," Coleman said. "I'm not sure how valid it is."

Crashes of noncommercial, nonmilitary planes kill an average of 652 people per year, the study said.