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Fatigue and the General Aviation Pilot

by John M. White |

When most people think about fatigue and flying, we think about fatigue and airline pilots; however, there is still an issue of fatigue and the general aviation pilot as well. For most of us some fatigue is expected and normal, but for pilots it can present a real problem.

Definition of Fatigue

Fatigue and the general aviation pilot Defining fatigue in humans is extremely difficult due to the large variability of causes. Causes of fatigue can range from boredom to circadian rhythm disruption to heavy physical exertion. However, from an operational standpoint a more accurate definition might be: “Fatigue is a condition characterized by increased discomfort with lessened capacity for work, reduced efficiency of accomplishment, loss of power or capacity to respond to stimulation, and is usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness and tiredness.”

2 Key Concepts To Consider

  • Fatigue comes from many sources - The important thing is not where the fatigue comes from, but how it impacts your ability to operate an airplane safely. Sore body, headaches and eye strain can really affect one's ability to concentrate on a difficult instrument approach.
  • Fatigue leads to a decrease in your ability to carry out tasks - A number of studies on manual dexterity have shown that fatigue and the general aviation pilot can significantly impair their ability to maneuver the aircraft precisely. Typically, this situation occurs with someone who does not get sufficient sleep over a prolonged period of time (as with sleep apnea, jet lag, or shift work) or someone who is involved in ongoing physical or mental activity with insufficient rest.

Stress

General aviation pilots are typically not exposed to the same occupational stresses as commercial pilots, nevertheless, they will still develop fatigue from a variety of other causes. Given the single-pilot operation and relatively higher workload, they would be just as much at risk to be involved in an accident than a commercial airline crew. Fatigue and the general aviation pilot combined can lead to decreased vigilance, memory problems, task fixation, and increased errors while performing tasks. None of these are good things to have happen to a pilot, much less if there is no one else in the aircraft to help out.

The Solution to Fatigue

Obtaining adequate sleep is the best way to prevent or resolve fatigue. On average, a healthy adult does best with eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Recommendations

Don't...
  • Consume alcohol or coffee 3 to 4 hours before going to sleep.
  • Eat a heavy meal just before bedtime
  • Use sleeping pills
  • Exercise just before going to bed
Do...
  • Be aware of the side effects of any medications you take
  • Consult a physician if sleep is difficult
  • Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable
  • Select good hotels when traveling
  • Get 8 hours of sleep per night
  • Turn in at the same time every day
  • Get plenty of rest and minimize stress before any flight.
Remember, be aware of the effects of fatigue on your piloting skills, and keep safe up there! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 Instrument flying is an unnatural act probably punishable by God. — Gordon Baxter ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

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