An analysis of data on airline mishaps has shown that accidents due to pilots' faults dramatically decreased between 1983 and 2002.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health say that though the overall rate of airline accidents remained stable during that period, the proportion of mishaps involving overall pilot error decreased 40 per cent.
The researchers reckon that mishaps due to pilots' poor decision-making declined 71 per cent.
According to them, better training and improvements in technology have helped reduce the rates of decision-making error on part of the pilots.
"A 40 per cent decline in pilot error-related mishaps is very impressive. Pilot error has long been considered the most prominent contributor to aviation crashes," said the study's lead author, Susan P. Baker, a professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management.
During the study, the researchers examined 558 airline mishaps that took place between 1983 and 2002. They concentrated on the circumstances of pilot error—characterized as carelessness on the part of the pilot and crew, flawed decision-making, mishandling of the aircraft or poor crew interaction.
Although the overall rate of pilot error mishaps declined, the number of accidents that involved errors by air traffic control or ground crews were found to increase during the same period.
The study also showed that pilot error was most common during taxiing, takeoff, final approach, and landing of the aircraft.
The researcher stressed the need for improving safety during the times when the aircraft is motionless on the ground or being pushed back from the gate, as the study showed that accidents during these times more than doubled from a rate of 2.5 to 6 mishaps per 10 million flights.
"Trends indicate that great progress has been made to improve the decision-making of pilots and coordination between the aircraft's crew members. However, the improvements have not led to an overall decline in mishaps. The increase in mishaps while aircraft are not moving may require special attention," said Baker.
The findings have been published in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine.