If you’re feeling sleepy on a flight, imagine what it must be like being a pilot


The problem of operator fatigue is not reserved only for those who drive land vehicles. Pilot fatigue, despite regulations designed to keep these drivers safe, alert, and healthy, is still a problem for flight crews everywhere.

This blog post was updated January 26, 2017.

Much of the focus of impairments in transportation is placed on commercial truck drivers (and, with good reason, train conductors).

Fatigue-related concerns surrounding pilots  don’t usually dominate headlines in the same way. This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with sleep deprivation among these transportation workers, regardless whether they are in the military, hauling cargo, or transporting people.

Aviation regulations

Pilots are probably more stringently regulated among all modes of transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced rules for pilot duty and rest requirements in 2011, and final versions for these became effective in 2014.

The Balance compared the old rules with the new ones in this October 31, 2016 summary. They also report that the FAA has launched mandatory update requirements for the Fatigue Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) that each airline must enforce, and has proposed a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) option to help them meet their regulatory obligations.

Updated 1.26.17: On December 2, 2016, the FAA released an Advisory Circular (downloadable PDF, 24pp) which further specifies and defines ideas, language, and requirements in the FRMPs/FRMS. 

In addition, March 2, 2015 brought new protocols from the FAA regarding the screening of pilots for one of the most common sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, which—when left untreated, or undertreated—is a major contributor to sleep deprivation in the workforce.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association provides this review and video detailing the history behind the development of these protocols (January 23, 2015). (For enlightenment about what these pilots think about these regulations, you can get a pretty good snapshot of attitudes in the comments section there.)

While this is encouraging news, and perhaps a model for other transportation system leaders to consider as they manage their own operator fatigue concerns, pilots still resist regulations.


Plane crashes related to pilot fatigue: a sample

On top of this, even with the best screening protocols in place, they can still be fatigued and accidents can still happen. Take a look:

Closer to home:

Are pilots concerned?

Yes! And if not, they should be:

About Tamara Kaye Sellman (621 Articles)

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. #ICYMI: Sleep deprivation in the work force – SleepyHead CENTRAL

Leave a comment or question for the Curator

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.