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Pilot Fatigue

by John M. White |

After Captain Sullenberger executed the flawless landing on the Hudson in his Airbus aircraft he became a celebrity appearing at many events around the country. While enjoying the notoriety both he and his first officer have continually urged that attention be paid to the issue of pilot fatigue. While many are concerned about pilot experience levels, pilot fatigue remains a much more serious problem. Most airline pilots do not live near the airport from which they begin their flights, so they wind up traveling on a jump seat in the cockpit or an empty seat back in the cabin to get to where their first flight will start from. Many of these pilots travel great distances before reaching where their first flight will depart from.
If you go to the FAA website you will find the following statement regarding the current FAA rules on duty time: "Current FAA regulations for domestic flights generally limit pilots to eight hours of flight time during a 24-hour period. This limit may be extended provided the pilot receives additional rest at the end of the flight. However, a pilot is not allowed to accept, nor is an airline allowed to assign, a flight if the pilot has not has at least eight continuous hours of rest during the 24-hour period. In other words, the pilot needs to be able to look back in any preceding 24-hour period and find that he/she has had an opportunity for at least eight hours of rest. If a pilot’s actual rest is less than eight hours in the 24-hour period, the next rest period must be lengthened to provide for the appropriate compensatory rest." Data from the FAA, NTSB and NASA combined provide evidence that the problem is growing. While it is well known that the majority of fatigue incidents remain unreported, recorded incidents show that there were 189 incidents in 2008, up from 117 incidents in 2007, while during the first 9 months of 2009 there were 104 reported incidents of serious pilot fatigue. With the rising number of incidents raising concerns many industry organizations are also pressing the FAA to clarify and revise current duty time rules. In fact, on February 19, 2010 the ALPA (Airline Pilots Association) release #10.005 stated as follows: “We are gratified that the NTSB continues to push the FAA to enhance safety in critical areas, including the need to take on pilot fatigue, reduce runway incursions and excursions, and provide better guidance to ensure safe flight in icing conditions,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president. “ALPA strongly supports the Board’s call for expedited action to better safeguard passengers, crews, and cargo against these threats.” For decades, ALPA has urged the airline industry and the FAA to address pilot fatigue by modernizing airline pilots’ flight- and duty-time limits and minimum rest requirements based on science. During the meeting, the NTSB reinforced the need to reduce accidents and incidents caused by human fatigue. “Our union has been deeply involved in the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee and Congressional efforts to address pilot fatigue,” said Prater. “We hope the visibility surrounding this NTSB meeting will provide an added push to get the proposed regulatory changes through the process and out to the public.” Without question there is a clear and present danger to the flying public with the current pilot duty time regulations, and this problem needs to be addressed quickly before it results in a major accident causing a large loss of life. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 The majority of aircraft accidents are due to some type of error of the pilot. This fact has been true in the past and, unfortunately, most probably will be true in the future. — Hugh Harrison Hurt, Jr., in the preface of his book 'Aerodynamics For Naval Aviators,' NAVWEPS 00-80T-80, August 1959.

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