It is said that they are exposed to 50% more of radiation than on the ground and they are prone to skin cancer, so, is there any way of reducing the amount of radiation for pilots?

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    $\begingroup$ Avoid the sun. I'm not concerned about my flying activities causing harm, though. If I get skin cancer it will be due to the years living under the desert sun. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ Related: How much radiation is an airline pilot exposed to in a year? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Related: Are sun's UV rays more harmful on an airplane at high altitude? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ 50% of radiations in excess... which type of radiations? I wouldn't care too much about UV, but ionizing cosmic rays are a bigger issue. Cosmic rays are not blocked by the aircraft skin, and less than 1 mSv is allowed for an unborn child (1 mSv / year). Airlines prevent a pregnant crew member to fly at high altitudes. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @mins I know more than a few pilots that flew until 8+ months until taking maternity leave. the airline didn't care as long as you were medically fit and weren't due within a week. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 1:20

3 Answers 3


Broadly speaking, radiation exposure can be mitigated in three ways: Time, Distance, and Shielding. Two of these mitigating factors can't really be improved: Distance and Time.

For distance, the radiation exposure concern for commercial jet pilots (and travelers)is generally related to cosmic radiation and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The sources are already quite distant, and the practical distances we can achieve on Earth won't make any appreciable difference here, so we can neglect distance.

Time (duration of exposure) is already somewhat limited by the duration of flights, but the cumulative effect over multiple flights is what we're generally concerned about when we discuss "pilot's radiation exposure".
As their career requires them to fly, and the nature of jets means they'll be flying at high altitude there's not much that can be done with time, except perhaps having a very short career or not accepting a large number of flights. These options are not economically attractive if flying is your career.

That leaves shielding. Pilots sacrifice the benefit of shielding (from the Earth's atmosphere) as they climb: The atmosphere is less dense and there is less of it between the pilot and the background radiation, therefore their exposure is increased.
It's here that improvements can at least theoretically be made: The pilots and passengers already gain some shielding from the structure of the aircraft, but not nearly as much as 30,000 feet of atmosphere provides. The aircraft could be constructed with additional radiation-shielding materials (lead foil for example, and UV-attenuating tints in the windows) but doing so would add a significant amount of weight.

As with most radiation shielding situations it ultimately becomes an economic trade-off: You implement shielding to bring the exposure (dose) down to an acceptable level given the time and distance constraints you're working within.
The additional dose received by pilots is already extremely low, and adding shielding to reduce it further would not give a huge increase in safety. The costs (in terms of aircraft design, construction, and operating cost to carry the additional weight) would exceed the cost of treating the relatively minor complications such as skin cancer which may result from the additional exposure over a lifetime career of flying.

If all of that was too much to read, the short answer to your question is "The best way to mitigate increased radiation exposure from flying is to remain at low altitudes." (Similar to how the best way to mitigate the increased radiation from living in Denver, Colorado at ~5,000 feet above MSL is to move to New Orleans, LA at 7 feet below MSL.)

The next best thing would be to fly less frequently or on shorter legs (to reduce the duration of exposure).

  • $\begingroup$ "Tinting" windows is pointless. Normal window materials block UV. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ the relatively minor complications such as skin cancer” I’m not quite sure everybody would qualify it like that… $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 13:45

Looks like the question is about UV radiation. If the cockpit is closed, there is no need to take any special action for protection as this radiation does not penetrate plexiglass windows of the aircraft. There is a good, extensive answer here.


Got 3 commercial pilots in my family, they all say the same thing: sunblock lotion if possible when bare arms are exposed. Although commercial pilots often wear a full suit, they do commonly wear a short sleeve shirt underneath a bog-standard jacket. My sister has resorted to wearing one of those "sporting arm sleeve" things for extra protection.

  • $\begingroup$ "sunblock" or sunscreen are completely useless if you are behind a window. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 2:33

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