Pilots are pictured in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft as it sits on the tarmac before take off at Guarulhos International Airport, near Sao Paulo on December 9, 2020 ( AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA)

Magazine memorial misrepresented as evidence of spike in US pilot deaths

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Online articles claim there has been a huge surge in US pilot deaths, citing a memorial section in the Air Line Pilots Association union's magazine as evidence and linking it to Covid-19 vaccination. But the association says it reported more deaths before Covid-19 vaccines were widely available, and the US Federal Aviation Administration says it has carefully reviewed data about the safety of the shots and permits pilots to receive them.

"US pilot deaths increase by 1,750% after covid vaccine rollout," says the headline of a December 13, 2021 article on the Vaccine Injury News website.

Screenshot of an online article taken on December 23, 2021

The article puts the number of deceased pilots at 111, citing a list "published in the Air Line Pilot Association magazine. In comparison, there were 6 airline pilot deaths in 2020, and only one death in 2019." It includes a blurry image of a magazine page.

While the list is only available to the magazine's subscribers, images of it -- which are circulating online alongside misleading claims that it shows a concerning trend -- indicate it includes deaths of both active and retired pilots, some of them from now-defunct airlines such as TWA and Pan Am.

Screenshot taken on December 23, 2021 of an image shared on Instagram

The claim -- which spread after various US airlines mandated vaccination for their employees, sparking legal action as well as inaccurate allegations about opposition to the shots resulting in canceled flights -- also appeared in an article here.

But the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) -- which represents tens of thousands of pilots as well as dozens of airlines -- says the claim is inaccurate.

"Based on verified information provided by their families, we reported the loss of more pilots in both 2019 and 2020 than in 2021," it said in a statement.

"We report the losses in our magazine as we receive information from the families. The information in one magazine edition does not provide a complete report of the total losses for each of the listed years," said the ALPA, which has advocated for pilot access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has conducted a "careful review of available data regarding safety profiles" of Covid-19 vaccines, and allows pilots to receive them.

"Holders of FAA-issued Airman Medical Certificates or Medical Clearances may receive the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines; however, a 48-hour no fly/no safety related duty interval must be observed after each dose," the FAA says.

The FAA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to requests for comment about the pilot deaths claim by the time of publication.

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 1,200 false or misleading claims related to Covid-19 here.