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What Is Pilot Fatigue? New Rules Considered

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 12:31 PM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: FAA, Airlines, Delta, Pilot Rest, Continental, American Airlines, Boeing

Pilots and crew of ultra long-range flights need more down time to recover, believes the FAA which is crafting new rules.

Crew and Pilot Rest


IMAGE SOURCE: Flight Global Web site/ Boeing 777

How long should a pilot be allowed to stay in the air before he or she is fatigued?

That is a decades-old debate whether your pilot is in the cockpit of a jumbo jet flying across continents or on a short hop in a turboprop.

Now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning to propose changes that would affect both ultra long-range routes as well as short regional jumps.

Many of the rules were crafted before ultra long-range routes took passengers to far-flung destinations such as Mumbai. An Airbus 380 and Boeing 777 can fly for as long as 20 hours without stopping, reports the New York Times.

The Wall Street Journal reports that flight regulations would govern flight hours and length of workdays for U.S. airline pilots.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, the new rules would take into account a number of factors, including the latest on how sleep, or lack of, and changing time zones affect the human body.

Under the new regulations, pilot schedules, the number of take-offs and landings, as well as the time of day, the number of pilots and in-flight sleeping accomodations would all be taken into consideration.

However, adding more down time or rest time is not necessarily the answer, says Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, an expert in fatigue management and former medical school professor, who consults for American Airlines.

"It's the simple solution, but it is not the best solution," said Dr. Moore-Ede.

He says the body becomes accustomed to another time zone.

Airlines Sue

The proposals could end up costing the airline industry by forcing the hiring of more pilots, and that has the industry pushing back.

Last October, when the FAA required crews and pilots to remain at their overseas destination twice as long from 24 to 48 hours to ensure they got adequate rest, seven airlines asked a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington to set aside the new requirement because it posed an added burden and cost.

Delta argued it already assigns two captains and two first officers on the flights to India, Dubai, and Shanghai, and keeps long-range crews on the ground for 48 hours. The FAA rescinded its proposal.

American and Continental give their pilots 24 hours, reports the NYT.

As it now stands, pilots of small turboprops such as SkyWest Airlines and other regional carriers, end up flying about 20 percent more hours per month than is allowed by the rest of the industry.

The airlines including American, Continental, JetBlue, United, US Airways, and Atlas Air and Evergreen International, argue that not enough is known about pilot fatigue to order the additional rest, reports the Times.

Dr. Moore-Ede suggests data be collected from all airlines to see what is working for them. Continental Airlines Inc. is collecting fatigue data on the crews aboard its Boeing 777, which will be considered by the FAA in crafting the final rules which should be issues before the end of next year. #


Anonymous User
Posted by seaav8tor
Thursday, September 17, 2009 1:13 AM EST

Probably should be addressed but is being used to try and hide the elephant in the room. The biggest safety issue in commercial aviation is the desire to dumb down the pilot job to the lowest bidder. The ATA, AIRCON, ICAO, Boeing, Airbus, etc think training and training alone is all that is needed to staff the the flight deck. ZERO consideration for experience. ZERO consideration for aptitude. ZERO consideration for performance. They believe (in the interest of saving money) Training can make up for lack. All I can say is this: "Hey injury board guys, congratulations, you have a VERY prosperous future ahead; Many more "Marvins" out there will keep you very busy in the years ahead". There will be more.


Anonymous User
Posted by R Coleman
Thursday, September 17, 2009 8:43 AM EST

Having spent years and thousands of hours as a line pilot flying both short haul and ultra long haul I have come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to combat pilot fatigue would be to provide truly adequate rest facilities on board any aircraft any time even one relief pilot is part of the crew - no exceptions. 'Adequate' means a real bed that is truly comfortable - humidity controlled, private, quiet, etc.

Increasing layover times to more than one 'sleep cycle' in far flung time zones can actually make one feel more fatigued during and after the return to domicile. I've flown ultra-long haul with both short and long layovers and find the short layovers, (12-18 hours) actually worked better for my body clock.

On the other hand short layovers - presently referred to in the industry as 'reduced rest' are not adequate. A big problem here is the practice of including transportation time to/from hotels in the 'rest' period - resulting too often in very little, (sometimes only 3 or 4 hours) actual rest in the hotel.

One other big problem is the current practice of using 'scheduled' duty and flight times rather than actual times to trigger rest periods. Rest rules are needed most during 'irregular operations'. The use of 'scheduled' times currently allows airlines to waive rest periods when they are needed most.

Access to good quality food and hydration are also too often lacking - both at the layover locations and on board the aircraft. Layover facilities are closed when we need them most. And airlines are so concerned about costs that drinking water has in some cases been 'rationed'.

Clearly the industry is not going to solve these problems without sensible regulation. The move toward deregulation has only made things worse.

Anonymous User
Posted by Skyflyin
Thursday, September 17, 2009 9:40 AM EST

"American and Continental give their pilots 24 hours"

This is one of the problems. Think about it. If you fly somewhere and arrive at 7pm your are flying during the day. 24 hours later you leave at 7pm now you are flying at night which completely turns around your body clock. The layovers should be around 12 or 36 hours so the body clock would stay the same.

Anonymous User
Posted by avius
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 11:52 PM EST

Having flown for 12+ years ultra long haul as pilot, I completely share R.Coleman's sentiment.

The problem is, that these rules are made by people who have only theoretical knowledge of fatigue.

These days, the phrase "flight time limitations" is misguided. Originally (many years ago)these rules have been created to set the boundaries. I reality they used to be rarely exceeded.

Thanks to the modern day bean-counters and their "productivity" measures these limitations are being abused and have become targets/quotas.

Therefore, under this new reality, fatigue has become inevitable compromising safety and the pilot's health.

Clearly, it is time for new regulation, which reflects today's world.

Posted by Amber Markham
Thursday, October 29, 2009 8:50 PM EST

I have researched pilot fatigue and have some very exciting information. It has been proven that toxic chemical waste is produced as a result of mental and physical work. This chemical waste builds up in the system, reducing the body's ability to respond effectively, and resulting in fatigue. It has also been proven that massage effectively cleans this waste from the system in record time, much faster than rest alone. Read my article on pilot fatigue and the cost-effective solution for the aviation industry.


Amber Markham
Air Traffic Controller

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