Fatigue can negatively impact a pilot’s performance, decision-making abilities, and overall alertness, which in turn can compromise flight safety.
Almost 7,000 European pilots from 31 countries responded to a survey by safety management consultancy Baines Simmons, revealing structural shortcomings in how airlines in Europe manage pilot fatigue risk. The worst performers were revealed as the UK, Malta, Ireland, and Spain, with the report indicating also major fatigue indicators.
Culprits of pilot fatigue include not enough rest in between flights and stretching flight duties beyond the legal maximum. These safety gaps indicate there is a clear lack of standardization across the European states. Over half of the pilots said they were concerned about possible negative consequences if they refused to extend their flight duty.
The report also revealed that 3 out of 4 pilots are getting at least one microsleep while in the cockpit operating an aircraft.
Some report 5 or more microsleeps while the aircraft is aloft. Hopefully, the pilot and co-pilot are taking turns, although a reported incident indicates this is not always true.
Other culprits that lead to pilot fatigue are frequent travel across time zones which results in jet lag and difficulty in adjusting to new sleep patterns. Pilots often work shifts that vary in duration and timing, making it challenging for their bodies to establish a consistent sleep routine, and flying during nighttime hours can disrupt circadian rhythms and increase the likelihood of fatigue-related performance issues.
The demands of flying an aircraft are high. The pilot has to monitor instruments, navigate, and be ready to respond to emergencies – all activities that can be mentally and physically taxing, contributing to fatigue. These fatigue problems can decrease cognitive performance, cause slower reaction times, impair decision making, and decrease situational awareness.
The bottom line is these fatigue-related problems result in compromised flight safety for the pilots, the crew, and passengers. Just as a vehicle driver falling asleep at the wheel is extremely dangerous, so too is falling asleep in the cockpit. Think that it’s less dangerous because it’s 35,000 feet up without another aircraft in sight? Have you watched flights taking off and landing at airport hubs and seen how closely timed they are? Have you seen a map of flights? Looks quite busy up there in the air.