Background: Cardiac transplant recipients have been regarded as not medically fit to fly an airplane. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to re-examine this policy and, in response, this study was undertaken to determine the risk of death from any cause and sudden-onset death in heart transplant recipients during the 12 months after an annual evaluation. Methods: Of 6,510 patients undergoing primary orthotopic cardiac transplantation enrolled in the Cardiac Transplant Research Database (CTRD), 4,978 patients survived for at least 1 year and formed the basis of this study. Risk factors for death from any causes and sudden-onset death (a composite of causes of death that could conceivably result in a pilot's incapacitation) were determined during the 12-month period after an anniversary evaluation. Patients were re-entered into the analysis at each evaluation, resulting in a total of 23,575 anniversary evaluations. Results: The presence of coronary allograft vasculopathy (CAV), left ventricular systolic dysfunction, history of rejection, malignancy, infection and pre-transplant insulin-dependent diabetes were associated with an increased risk of death from any cause and sudden-onset death during the 12-month period after an evaluation. Based on the absence of these risk factors, a group of heart transplant recipients could be defined with a 12-month risk of death from any cause of 1.0% and of sudden-onset death of 0.3% (which is identical to the mortality rate of a matched population from the U.S. life-table). Conclusion: Using these identified risk factors, a group of heart transplant recipients can be defined that are potentially medically certifiable to fly without compromising aviation safety. Copyright © 2005 by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.