Mindful airline pilots are involved in fewer potentially hazardous aviation incidents

Pilots high in trait mindfulness tend to be involved in fewer hazardous aviation incidents, according to a study published in the Journal of Safety Research.

The study found that trait mindfulness had a direct and negative effect on airlines pilots’ incident involvement.

Trait mindfulness is characterized by an ability to recognize and accept one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment. Those high in trait mindfulness also tend to be more aware of the present moment rather than performing tasks automatically.

For their study, the researchers had 295 commercial airline pilots from China complete measures of mindfulness and aviation risk perception. The pilots also reported their total number of flight hours and the number of times they were involved in potentially hazardous aviation incidents, such as accidentally stalling an aircraft or inadvertently flying into instrument weather conditions.

Trait mindfulness was directly linked to airlines pilots’ incident involvement, and also indirectly linked via risk perception. In other words, high levels of trait mindfulness were associated with increased risk perception. Pilots who viewed situations as more risky, in turn, were found to be involved in fewer incidents.

“Pilots with higher trait mindfulness were more likely to perceive risk in the flight environment and make more effective judgements,” the researchers explained.

“A possible explanation for the latter is that trait mindfulness can exert the effects found here not only by improving one’s attention and focus, but also through fostering better regulation of emotion, body awareness, and by bringing about a change in perspective with regard to one’s inner and outer experience.”

The study, “The influence of trait mindfulness on incident involvement among Chinese airline pilots: The role of risk perception and flight experience“, was authored by Ming Ji, Can Yang, Haiyan Han, Ying Li, and Quan Xu.