View Full Version : Pilot fatigue

13th Apr 2001, 00:36
I guess this topic has been raised in this forum some time ago, but, as a pax, I would appreciate to receive some input on the following issue:

I would imagine that, after a long working day (or night), you will sometimes find it difficult to fully concentrate on difficult situations, landings, etc. How do you, as professional pilots, cope with the problem of fatigue after a long day´s (or night´s) flight? What is, if there is any, your company´s policy on this?

It has been argued that fatigue is only a problem at long-haul flights. However, I would imagine that after so and so many take-offs and landings during short-distance trips in crowded airspace in, say, Europe, this might be a problem not only for 747 etc. pilots, but for ATR, BAe, 737 etc. drivers, too. What techniques, if any, do you use to stay alert?

Or am I, as a non-pilot, simply over-estimating fatigue as a problem?

Thanks for any posts on this issue!

13th Apr 2001, 00:55

The business interests of aviation now have precedence over safety - fact, not fiction.

Crew fatigue is a very real problem in all facets of the airline world. However, it has the status of UFOs - to be rendered fictional at any cost.

Bearing in mind that no government agency will have any part of an investigation, go to -

www.webpak.net/~skydream (http://www.webpak.net/~skydream)

- and look at the Flight CS-985 accounts.

Even with well documented fatal crashes, Jane Garvey will have no part of enforcing the crew rest regulations. The site mentioned above has a related letter to her, which has been unanswered.

Even Jane Garvey's No. 2 guy, Nick Lacey is quoted by the LA Times as citing Jane as going back on her promise to enforce the regulations. Essentially, he called her a liar; I won't argue.

The good news is, "...it's bad.;" the bad news is, "...it's getting worse."

The safety science of Crew Resource Management (CRM) is in the same category - safety last.

The law was changed to relieve the FAA of safety accountability, so guess where your family is on their next flight? Check your insurance policies.

Notice that the only emphasis the FAA asserts in the media is in cramming more aircraft through the same airspace - preferably on time.

Mineta has immediately distinguished himself by relieving the accountability of Air Traffic Controllers (to an unknown extent) and is now trying to get the thunderstorm takeoff restrictions relaxed. Safety? That stuff costs money; we can only afford so much.

Conversely, crews are taught techniques for maximizing their alertness in the course of the crew fatigue experience.

P.S. Your Congressmen don't care; they've all been tried.

[This message has been edited by SKYDRIFTER (edited 12 April 2001).]

13th Apr 2001, 01:02
SKYDRIFTER has hit the nail on the head. Cannot see very much progress in the forseeable future. Suppose it will take another accident(s).

Devils Advocate
13th Apr 2001, 01:26
Whoop, whoop, warning, warning, heads-up, heads-up, press alert, press alert......

Right now I'm as knackered as the next guy, i.e. a planned annual rostering requirement of between 850 and 900 flying hours (spread across about 500 sectors), but as this is governed by CAP371 it's all entirely legal, ain't it ?!

Nb. The following was recently posted in our company forum - I'm sure (hope) that the contributor won't mind me reproducing their tome in this thread.........

<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" size="2">Way back in June of 1994 the CAA issued a 'Notice to AOC Holders' with the intent of clarifying some points of interest w.r.t. Flight/Duty-Time Limitations's, eg (and somewhat paraphrased) :

Section 3.2 Rostering (CAP 371 Section A Paragraph 2 and Section C Annex E)
The Authority is concerned that some operators are working some crews close to the limits of their approved FTL scheme, and at the same time not following good rostering practices. It is emphasised that such rostering, despite being within the legal limitations, can produce fatigue well before the limits in CAP 371 are reached.

Whilst I'm sure that fatigue affects many aircrew, to a greater or lesser extent much dependant upon the nature of their flying, my experience is from a 'low cost', 'shorthaul', 'scheduled service', carrier with very tight (i.e. typically less than 30 minute) turn arounds - and a roster pattern that tends to be either early's or late's.

So when you ask why the ticket cost is low, it might be fair to suggest that, in-part, the price of your ticket is a reflection of just how much 'value-for-money' is extracted from the employees.

Ps. I'd better keep this short and sweet as I've got to leave the house in 6 hours (yes, really ! ) for an early report. Nb. Last week I did just under forty hours of flying and 18 sectors, and I don't even bother to track my duty hours any more - i.e. too bloody tired to bother. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Mr moto
13th Apr 2001, 01:44
If I can deduce your approximate location from your name then you have probably been aboard with me up front.
We fly 4-6 sectors a day and have duty time regulations which ensure a certain amount of rest. Max 90 per day and max 270 in the previous 7 days and at least two 26 hour periods of full rest in 14 days, scheduled.
In reality I get around 230-40 points per week as a max.

Furthermore, we have a duty, not a right, a duty to not work if we are not properly rested. My neighbour kept me up all night once with a techno party and this would have lead to such a case if I had been on the schedule. It doesn't have much effect on the annual sick leave.

An early check-in is always a pain especially if you've only had the minimum 9 hours rest and not adjusted sleep patterns but the working day is not so long, often just six hours. Four hour-long flights with half hour turnarounds.
With this kind of routine any thing out of the ordinary is quickly picked up as we know what we expect to see.
We are also two pilots who constantly check and recheck the situation and each-other to avoid problems like familiarity breeding contempt.

The real answer to your question is much less boring.....
Really strong, sweet coffee!!!

Ask to visit the front office for a chat with us.

Willkommen an bord unseres....

[This message has been edited by Mr moto (edited 12 April 2001).]

13th Apr 2001, 02:31
Mr moto - "Ask to visit the front office for a chat with us."

Thanks for the invitation, I will come back to you on my next hop out...

Some of the other answers, however, will rather give me a restless sleep...


13th Apr 2001, 02:41
Has anyone tried taking some caffeine tablets - do they work as well as, or better than, coffee?

13th Apr 2001, 03:00
Longhaul routes you are pretty tired all the time you are flying. Especially going East from London as you generally fly night sectors both ways. Also operating West about from the far east!!
You just get used to it and try and rest during your crew rest if you get any.

capt beeky
13th Apr 2001, 07:46
If a pilot needs caffeine tablets, then the fatigue is such that the pilot shouldn't be flying. At Cranwell some of the cadets used these during the big exercises. It didn't improve their performance, they still appeared as groggy as the rest at 0330, and the effects when they came off them were undesireable.

13th Apr 2001, 08:05
As I contemplate my 2,500 hour roster for last year I wonder what it would be like to be rostered for just 8 or 900. Heaven! Of course, pilots have lots of innocent lives in their hands. It is a safety hazard letting them get as tired as anyone ese at the end of a days work.

"Hi, David" (our friendly neighbourhood airworthiness surveyor has just phoned.)

"What do you mean I missed SB 767-54A0070?"
"It was due when?"
"Oh Sh*t!"
"You're issuing an immediate rule?"
"We're grounded? What the h*ll for? Its only the bl**dy Wing/Pylon attachments for Christ's sake! When did you ever hear of an engine falling off the wing?"
"Oh!.... Oh...Yes,... I forgot about that one... Yes and that one too."
"OK. OK. I'm just off to head office to resign then..."

Slams down phone...

"Damned airworthiness cr*p! Why don't they worry about important things and let us get on with the job...."

Through difficulties to the cinema

[This message has been edited by Blacksheep (edited 13 April 2001).]

13th Apr 2001, 11:47
You might like to look at this :-

www.chirp.co.uk (http://www.chirp.co.uk)

and have a look in the latest "Feedback"

13th Apr 2001, 11:53
Hey Blacksheep,

I'm not quite sure if you got it right.

When talking about 900 hours, this means Block Hours, so only the time the aircraft is actually moving. Add to this all preparation phases, proceedings, dead-head-travel, office work, updating the papers, preparing at home for the next simulator or flight, and so on and so on, and you will get the correct working time you are talking about.

13th Apr 2001, 12:08
Could we have a special Fatigue forum? I'm beginning to suffer fatigue fatigue.

13th Apr 2001, 13:15
I know that Rammstein :)

Try a flight from the Far East to Germany - 18 hours long haul starting at the end of a normal working day and arriving early morning. Pickup is waiting at the airport for a 90 minute drive to the site. Start meeting immediately and run through the day to 20.00L Bed at 2200L (45 hours since the last time in a bed.) Up again at 05.00L to conference call base (time zone difference) Back to the site at 07.30L and work right through to 12.30L then driven straight back to the airport to fly long haul back to the Far East again, arriving mid afternoon. Back to office and make some airworthiness decisions. Be careful, get it wrong and someone might die.

The point is its not just pilots who have a fatigue problem that affects aviation safety. Everyone who works in the industry has to be on their toes whether they are flying, checking load sheets, enforcing dangerous goods regulations or making engineering decisions. Mistakes that cause accidents often begin with someone being too tired to maintain their usual standards - its an industry wide problem because of the strange shifts we all work.

Through difficulties to the cinema

13th Apr 2001, 15:26
I find it frightening that government ministers and their civil service assistants are taking life-changing decisions when clearly unfit through fatigue to function properly.

Perhaps that's how wars are started??


You splitter
13th Apr 2001, 17:05
This issue has two sides to it. Those that actually see this as a problem and those that use 'fatigue' and 'safety' as a front for what is nothing more than an attempt at imrpoving working condtions. Those people sadly let the side down. I agree with some of what you say but also remember that one paragraph of CAP371 also refers to a crews responsibilty in ensuring rest periods are taken in such a manner as to achieve sufficient rest before commencing a duty. Some (not all) crews dissapear to bed 6 or 7 hours before a flight, and then are seen crying fatigue the next day. If you are given 11 or twelve hours minimum, and you don't use that then why should the companies or authorities give you more?

Death threats on the back of a postcard please!

13th Apr 2001, 18:41

I don't recall anyone stating that fatigue only affects pilots. This being a pilot's forum, however, some thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss pilot fatigue.
We all have our responsibilities and our share of sob stories. You don't want to hear mine and I don't want to hear yours. But since I've already read it, let me say this: If your job was that bad on a regular basis, you'd have quit long ago and become a baker's assistant. So let's keep the chest beating to a minimum, all right?

When it comes to finding time to rest, I agree that it is the responsibility of the pilot to be rested in preparation for a flight. I also agree that it's easier said than done. For example, a freight pilot flying primarily overnights will begin to feel overwhelmingly tired at 3:00 AM no matter how much rest he or she got the day before.
Unless one has managed to convert their homelife to a pure nighttime schedule, it takes about a week to adjust. Even then, pilots begin to nod off when the segment is longer than 2 hours or so.

Solutions are unclear, regulation can only do so much, and until then we have to take responsibility for keeping ourselves alert and getting the necessary rest. So do what we do and turn up the lights at cruise and periodically slap each other at intervals not to exceed 10 minutes. An alternate method of compliance is replace the slap with the scream, "OH SH!T!"

Fly safe and stay awake,

13th Apr 2001, 19:59
Sorry if you thought I was chest-beating haamster, I hoped to point out that there is more to the fatigue question than just duty hours. The whole industry suffers from fatigue induced by working strange hours and shift patterns. The real issue about pilot fatigue isn't in the amount of hours pilots (or anyone else) work. Its when you work them that counts. Jet-lag isn't confined to pilots, its a phenomena experienced by all shift workers and most international business travellers. The answer isn't simply longer rest periods, what's needed is a fundamental rethink about how services are scheduled. Aviation is a 24 hour a day business and it seems obvious that this should be so. But is it? Is there no other way?

Through difficulties to the cinema

13th Apr 2001, 21:22
Oh, ok. Well I guess we're in agreement, then. And here I thought we'd be calling each other names and hexing the computer screen.


14th Apr 2001, 01:28

One of the major aspects with crew fatigue is that the retirement factor leaves many compelled to hang on, risking as they dare.

Given scenarios such as AA-1420 with the base chief pilot going for broke (why?) and the CS-985 accounts, it's not a simple matter of arbitrarily changing careers.

Management has their ways. The Continental pilots are faced with the issue of being thrown into an alcohol treatment center for fighting back (check the CS-985 account - the captain was a tea-totaler). There is no indicator as to the probable response. Not even the Continental union would intervene in the CS-985 matter - owned and operated by management. Attorneys resorted to felonies to bury that story.

No easy answers on this topic. The FAA, in particular won't touch the subject, except to bury it.

alpha charlie
14th Apr 2001, 15:37
You Splitter has made a very valid point, in that crews often don't help themselves, but I will of course acknowledge that rosters have a major impact upon their lives.

The term fatique should not be confused with 'tiredness'. Bader described the difference between the two as being, 'if tired you can be arosed to full awareness and competence', whereas in 'fatique your performance is almost certainly going to be below normal response level'. You shouldn't be flying if you believe yourself to be fatiqued.

Pilots have been flying with CAP371 based FTL schemes for over 30 years now, I believe the profession would have killed it off a long time ago if it did not offer protection from 'Fatique', but readily acknowledging the NOTAOCH on pushing it too the limits of the rules.

14th Apr 2001, 16:19

Its not always possible to use a full allocation of rest time to sleep. Most company's (certainly mine) roster more than their fair share of 24 hour slip patterns. If you could tell me how to fit 2 full sleep patterns into 24 hours I would be pleased to hear from you. Also, bear in mind that you usually arrive at your dest airport absolutely knackered so the option of staying up and having only 1 sleep is a non starter.

We all do our best, but sometimes (more often than not) - it impossible.

Usually, its people with no long haul experience who go on about this as they have never experienced the situation, and until you have....well, you just haven't!

14th Apr 2001, 19:20
AC, whilst the profession may have been operating to CAP 371 for 30+ years the pressures today are vastly different to the 70s. In addition it was pointed out to AOC holders that they have a legal duty to avoid fatiguing their crews back in 1996.

If you are regularly scheduled to CAP 371 limits you will become fatigued: the Guantanamo accident was the first to cite fatigue in the report as a causal factor. The NASA Ames site has some good papers available for those interested.

CHIRP and the CAA are aware of the operators who are pushing the rules and in one case blatantly breaking them and are in the process of dealing with the problem of "loopholes" in CAP 371.

Wig Wag
15th Apr 2001, 11:59
EDDNHopper. Thank you for raising this issue.

CAP 371 has definately not kept up with contemporary airline operations. Repetative early reports and multi sector duties are a common working pattern now. This has been fueled by the rise in the low cost airline market trying to satisfy the market for businessmen trying to make that 'first meeting' in European cities.

The basic problem being waking yourself at 0400 to 0430 and working through to the early afternoon up to five days in a row. Whilst this may not appear severe, a problem arises on days 3, 4, and 5, of such blocks of duty. In plain terms it is very difficult gain a good nights sleep by going to bed early and rising in the middle of the night on a regular basis.

You might be reasonably alert for 3 days of this but not for 5.

But you need to be alert for every minute of your working day in a short haul operation; even more so in the London area.

The only way that fatigue on early shifts for short haul pilots will be reduced is by an amendment to CAP 371 limiting the number of early consecutive starts to a maximum of 3 in a row. This would allow a pilot to have a lie in, catch up on sleep and be refreshed for further duty.

PaulDeGearup: I hope you are right and that the CAA are on the case. Remember that the CAA are not allowed to predjudice the commercial aspects of airline operations without good cause and that fatigue can be a subjective issue as people are effected differently.

There are a lot of very tired crews over London these days. DERA have conducted fatigue trials with two UK scheduled airlines and have the most up to date picture of the problem.

15th Apr 2001, 13:13
Do not believe that the CAA will do much about this until there is an accident or serious incident attributable to fatigue in an official AAIB report. The CAA are the 'authority' that grant dispensations and variations to the FTLs so that operators can work their schedules.

As an example, take a flight from the UK to the Middle East. A single crew are allowed to operate 2 sectors (out and back) for a total block time in excess of 11.5 hours which would mean a minimum duty time of at least 13.5 hours whereas the FTL's would limit that to 13.25 hours and that does not take into account any slot or turn around delays. The CAA make a variation available so that operators can extend the duty by one hour provided the crew get two days off after.

My point is not that this in itself is fatigueing on its own but that a single crew operating for so many hours is extremely tired by the time they are half way back to base and it is the safety factor should there be any problems towards the end of the flight that worry me. We are of course assuming that the crew managed to get proper rest before the duty and were not already out of synch due to mixed duties beforehand.

Another way that some companies get around the problems that FTLs cause the accountants is the manipulation of the scheduled flight times. I have noticed an increasing likelyhood that some companies will schedule unrealistic sector times, especially on long haul flights as it is the sector time that determines the max allowable flight duty time. By shaving ten or fifteen minutes of a scheduled sector time they can increase the allowable flight duty time 45 minutes.

Some of our American cousins might be suprised to learn that we can operate single crew on one sector for up to 11:15 (block time) before even considering going into discretion. That means that with a 1:15 before departure report (and we all know how unrealistic that is) and a clever commercial department who schedule a long haul flight to be exactly 11 hours whereas in reality it is most likely to be 11:30 or more, a single crew will probably be operating a flight into somewhere west of the Rockies after being on duty officially for 12:30 and unofficially for nearer 13:30 (plus the journey into work) with no inflight relief crew or rest.

The authorities seem to believe that just because the crew will get time off to recover and therefore not become fatigued that there is no problem but it is my beliefe that they do not in any way take into account the danger of a tired crew just because of the actual duty time. Heaven forbid the passengers should have to pay an extra 20 or thirty quid a head to cover the expense of having a relief crew and a proper rest area for the crew.

After all, it is only a balancing act between safety and money and safety is no accident! I am not confusing tiredness with fatigue but there are so many factors to be taken into account and they are not properly addressed in my opinion. When the FTLs in CAP371 were introduced so many decades ago they did not have the knowledge we have today about the physiology of fatigue and the circadian rythm and it is time for a proper review of the rules. Of course pigs might fly too.

15th Apr 2001, 13:53
My old man's not allowed to make comments about his company on this forum so I'd better not or I may drop him in the s**t

Still glamorous


16th Apr 2001, 11:01
I fly only at night on a cargo operation in Europe.
The working pattern is 8/6 or 16 days on/12 days off. Your choice.
Rarely we work 16 days in a row because we have reserve days or sby in between. However the last block, I worked 15 nights in a row and it was very tiring. Even, with more than legal rest between flights because we can't sleep 12 hours if we have 12 hours rest or 18 hours if we have 18 hours rest.
We are lucky if we can sleep 5 or 6 hours in a row during day time in an hotel. Then the rest of the day, you try to rest but you can't sleep. Then, 1 or 2 hours before pick-up time, you feel sleepy again but it's too late.
Despite our so-called night pattern, almost every night, I can see the F/O or the F/E fighting to stay awake (myself included). And very often I can see one of them falling asleep for a short period (especially young guys).
Whatever the regulation, the pattern, the schedule we can't be as sharp at night than at day. Let alone at the end of your working block !!

But what the hell ! If we crash, it's only 3 crews. It won't make the headlines !


16th Apr 2001, 13:11
How on earth can it be legal, let alone safe, to work 16 (or even 8) days in a row???

It astonishes me that the authorities allow such patterns, that Channel 4 has to resort to invention to procure a story on pilots drinking, yet ignore this aspect of air safety.

Too many companies are so complacent about pilots' duty times that they will work their crews to the limit of the regulations. Too often they consider that that is the limit of their responsibilities, and if a pilott demurs at a duty, commercial pressure is brought to bear, or a "black mark" is thereafter put on his record. Most companies' schemes contain a phrase that implies that if a pilot is having difficulty obtaining adequate rest, he should see a doctor - not that there could be any problem with the way he is being made to work!


A plea to arlines:-

Be proactive on safety. Don't hide behind the regulations. Don't be smugly satisfied that you're sticking to the letter of the law and effectively ignoring the welfare of your crews, the safety of your passengers and cargo. And if pilots point out fatigue problems, TAKE NOTICE.

16th Apr 2001, 13:14
When are we likely to have pan-JAR area FTL(Sch.Q)? DePalacio(and Monti and Prodi)seem to be there only to defend the interests of their respective countries on the subject(missing only a Greek to have the club Med complete).