By NICHOLAS BAKALAR
Published: December 28, 2009
More than 1,000 people a year are hospitalized for aviation-related injuries, with only one-tenth of them passengers in commercial aircraft.
Researchers have analyzed data from 2000 through 2005, gathering information on crashes, parachuting accidents, airport maintenance worker injuries and passenger injuries sustained on the ground, among others. The report, which appears in the December issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, uses a group of health care databases maintained by the federal government’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.
Only 10.6 percent of those hospitalized were traveling in commercial aircraft. More than 32 percent were injured in private planes, and almost 11 percent in gliders or hang gliders. Unsurprisingly, jumping out of an airplane is quite dangerous: 28.9 percent of those injured were parachutists.
More than 28 percent of all injuries were to the lower limbs. And while burns were seen in just 2.5 percent of the patients, they accounted for 17 percent of deaths after hospitalization.
The military services have established effective surveillance systems to track aviation injuries, but the researchers write that the sources of information on nonmilitary injuries are not as complete.
Neither the National Transportation Safety Board nor the Federal Aviation Administration collects complete information on all injured aircraft passengers, and Susan P. Baker, the lead author of the study, believes this is a problem. “I think we have made good use of a valuable data source,” Ms. Baker said, “but the ideal information on injuries would come from the N.T.S.B., so that it could be correlated with data on the aircraft and the crash circumstances.”
Ms. Baker, a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins, said that while the largest category of injuries and deaths had always been private planes, “it surprised me that there were so many parachutists among the injured.”
“There were almost as many parachute injuries as civil aviation injuries,” she said. NICHOLAS BAKALAR