Older Pilots Show Less Decline Over Time Than Young

Study suggests that age limits for pilots, other occupations should be reconsidered

MONDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Older airline pilots have less decline in flight simulator test performance over time than younger pilots, suggesting that expert knowledge may offset the impact of old age in some occupations, according to a report in the Feb. 27 issue of Neurology.

Joy Taylor, Ph.D., from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Sierra-Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and colleagues used simulators to measure the flight performance of 118 general aviation pilots, aged 40 to 69, over a three-year period. Their performance was scored in terms of executing air-traffic controller communications; traffic avoidance; scanning cockpit instruments; executing an approach to landing; and a flight summary score.

The investigators found that pilots with more expertise had better summary scores that declined less over time compared to less-experienced pilots. Differences were especially apparent in communications. Although older pilots initially performed worse than younger pilots, they showed fewer declines in summary flight scores than their younger counterparts, largely because of their traffic avoidance performance.

"It is time to reconsider fixed age limits for the workplace and consider transitioning to competency-based evaluations of performance," according to an editorial by Joseph Sirven, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Phoenix, and a colleague.

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