An Analysis of In-flight Passenger Injuries and Medical Conditions: 1 January 1975 to 31 March 2006


Approximately 1.5 to 2 billion passengers fly on the world's civil aircraft each year. As the population ages, the number of air travellers increases and longer routes are flown by bigger aircraft, the number of medical events involving passengers is anticipated to increase.

The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence, nature, type and extent of medical problems and injuries occurring in passengers on board civil registered aircraft. The aim, in particular, was to determine the most common in-flight medical problems in passengers, and what proportion of these events result in an aircraft diversion.

A search of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's accident and incident database was conducted for medical conditions and injuries in passengers between 1 January 1975 and 31 March 2006. There were 284 passenger medical events and injuries (defined as 15 accidents, one serious incident and 268 incidents). These events accounted for only 0.18 of a percentage point of all the occurrences listed on the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's database. In-flight deaths accounted for only 3 per cent of the total passenger injury events.

The most common cause of in-flight death, at 44 per cent, was heart attack. Serious injuries accounted for slightly more than a third of reported occurrences. Minor injuries accounted for the majority of cases, at 53 per cent. The most common medical event in passengers was minor musculoskeletal injury (26 per cent of cases). Ninety-five flights were diverted (33 per cent). Of the known medical conditions, heart attack was the most common reason for an aircraft diversion (33 cases out of 95), followed by a fitting episode (in six cases).

The results of this study are consistent with other published international experience. There is a low risk of passengers sustaining either an injury or a medical event as a consequence of travel on a civil aircraft.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Publication date: 25 October 2006
Related: Statistics
Last update 07 April 2014
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