Australian investigators have identified laser strikes as the second most common cause of pilot incapacitation, but stress that the number of incidents is relatively low.

The conclusion follows research into crew incapacitation over a five-year period covering 2010-14, carried out by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Eighty-six of the 113 occurrences – more than 75% – involved high-capacity air transport operations.

The study found the largest cause, by a considerable margin, was gastrointestinal complaints, accounting for half the events.

Laser strikes were the next most common cause.

But the study states that, while 1,316 laser strikes on high-capacity transports were reported to the ATSB over the five-year interval, only 11 resulted in incapacitation.

Despite the rarity of such occurrences, the ATSB warns that laser strikes can be serious enough to incapacitate the pilot completely.

One in every 34,000 air transport flights resulted in an incapacitation incident over the period under study, with the pilot being removed from duty for the remainder of the flight in the majority of cases.

Ensuring that pilots on the same flight eat differently is an “effective defence” against multiple incapacitation risk, says the ATSB, adding that there are strong benefits to providing specific training to help pilots cope with the possibility.

Source: Cirium Dashboard