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Phobic Fear of Flying in Aircrews: Epidemiological Aspects and Comorbidity

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Medialdea J, Tejada FR. Phobic fear of flying in aircrews: epidemiological aspects and comorbidity. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76:566–568.

Background: Phobic fear of flying may affect aircrew members during any phase of their flying careers. Symptoms are beyond voluntary control and may lead patients to avoid flying and seek medical advice. Methods: Of 1101 psychiatric files from our institute for 1985–2002, 150 represented cases of fliers who suffered from phobic fear of flying. Data collected from those files included assessment of fear-evoking situations, type of aircraft, class of aircrew duties, aircraft accident history, past medical history, age, and associated psychiatric comorbidity. Results: We compared a group of 56 pilots with 94 other aircrew members. Results included 143 cases of flight phobia behavior and 7 cases of anxiety about parachuting. Flight phobia was less frequent among pilots (37.4%) than the other aircrew members (62.6%). We found a history of aircraft accident to the patient or an acquaintance in 25% of the cases. Observed comorbid psychiatric disorders (54%) consisted of depressive disorders (22%), anxiety disorders (16%), and personality disorders (7.4%). Fixed-wing pilots and aircrews members had a higher incidence of depression than did rotary-wing pilots and crewmembers (p < 0.05). Rotary-wing pilots and crewmembers had a higher rate of anxiety disorders (p < 0.05). Discussion: Flight phobia encompasses a wide spectrum of clinical origins that may lead pilots or other aircrew members to refuse to fly. We recommend a careful psychiatric evaluation and close follow-up to adequately diagnose fliers with flight phobic reactions, as well as establishing adequate medical and/or psychological treatment.
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Keywords: comorbidity; epidemiology; fear of flying; flight phobia

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2005

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