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How unhealthy is flying/Being a Commercial Pilot?

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How unhealthy is flying/Being a Commercial Pilot?

Old 12th Mar 2018, 12:37
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How unhealthy is flying/Being a Commercial Pilot?

Good day to all.

I know that the question is quite vague, and depends on individual lifestyle.
As a health conscious, younger guy recently entering into the word of aviation and flying, I am curious how bad it is all in all if one manages to try to have a good balance.

The flying at ungodly hours can be hectic, but there are plenty of other jobs that require you to also have horrible shifts, etc. Sleep can be caught up on, but I am wondering how bad the overall Job can be, and how bad of a toll can it take on the body.

I have not been flying nearly as long as the guys on here, but have noticed that there are 2 types of guys for the most part.
Either the health conscious Pilot, the ones that look very good for their age, that leads a balanced life, make sure to exercise(even if not excessively), and then you have the guy that does not care about what he eats, never works out, smokes like a chimney, looks years beyond his age, and simply does not care for his health too much.

As a health conscious guy, and a guy that likes to take care of himself, I am wondering if flying can take a toll on you and age you years beyond your days, as well as cause health issues, even if you lead a balanced, healthy life, and made sure to catch up on sleep, and eat well.
It may be a sort of unusual question or worry for some, but I am an athlete, have always lead a healthy lifestyle, looked younger for my age, taken care of myself, and I would like to hear insight from the guys that can relate.

Thank you.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 13:12
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There could be books written on the subject, so I shall only make a few points as I am sure that there will be many others. Sitting for many hours on end can not be healthy, I am in my 60s and continue jogging in the hope of mitigating some of the damage. The main stress of the job is the constantly changing shift patterns. The traditional shift worker does a week of earlies then afternoons and nights so that they can get some sort of sleep pattern. The standard UK charter goes for a few earlies, maybe an afternoon flight, followed by a night or two. That is all in one week and there is no way you can adapt to that pattern. Your sleep will be messed up good and proper and I have never understood why we do it this way. Its slightly different on the LH circuit but the same results. Not too much you can do apart from try and make the best of it but I think that there is research to say that this is not a healthy lifestyle.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 13:12
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but there are plenty of other jobs that require you to also have horrible shifts, etc.
What are they? I’m sure you’re probably right but I’d be interested to know what other jobs have you starting at 6pm on Monday and finishing 12 hours later after two 3.5 hour sectors, then having one day off before starting at 5 am ( 3 am alarm) and doing another 12 hour Duty. Then on Saturday starting at 2pm for another 12 hour day, having another single day off before starting at 5 am again ( 3 am alarm) etc etc etc.
Most shift workers I can think of do a week of earlies, a week of mids then a week of lates , not this job. The duties are so random that after a month you feel rubbish, after a year you are worn out, and after a decade you have health problems.
I feel like an old man and I run 20 miles a week and am not really that old.
I’m working it so I can get out and keep the house simply so I can meet grand childeren when they come.
Edited to say that Scribble posted at the same time.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 13:23
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The Flying game is a very strange place.Some can cope just topping up the Alc% level well into their 80s!Others from the same era,who never drank much,and played squash and or Rugby,left passed away in their 50s.You just cant put a number on it,but todays glass cockpit flying offices,are equivalent to several mobile phones strapped to your head for hours on end!!You can never forget,no matter how the CAA view it,that there are noxious,not to say poisonous,fumes emanating from bleed air pressurising and air/con the cabin/cockpit.I lose many friends/colleagues every year from different forms of the dreadful disease well before they should.Most of the older generation could adjust to differing cicadian rhythms in sleep patterns,from day/night and back,but not for long.Long nights can be killers,then driving home especially after a prolonged roster period.Nevertheless I would not have missed it for the world,but would have second thoughts flying todays machines!!!
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 13:36
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Originally Posted by framer View Post
What are they? Iím sure youíre probably right but Iíd be interested to know what other jobs have you starting at 6pm on Monday and finishing 12 hours later after two 3.5 hour sectors, then having one day off before starting at 5 am ( 3 am alarm) and doing another 12 hour Duty. Then on Saturday starting at 2pm for another 12 hour day, having another single day off before starting at 5 am again ( 3 am alarm) etc etc etc.
.
Merchant Navy Officer,

I work 3months on 3 Months off, 12 hours a day when on operations (subsea) can sometimes be midnight to midday or midday to midnight depending on circumstances (changing often) when not on operations i work 4 hours on 8 hours off (normally 8-12/20-00). This sounds fairly routine however then you have to factor everything else into it. Jet lag from flying too your ship, the fact your ship is moving constantly you cannot guarantee a good night sleep but you are a watchkeeper so need to be on watch regardless, drills; fire, abandon, oil spill etc do not come under your working hours and if the drills are taking place during your rest hours your rest will be interrupted. At the moment there are 8 mandatory drills to do each month, so thats a few hours out your 12 hours rest 8 days a month. Then there is arrivals and departures, the whole bridge team needs to be on standby regardless of if you have just finished or are about to start watch (usually a nice 4am arrival) and of course inspections and surveys that happen once a month. Thats not to mention the personal inspections you have to carry out yourself outside of working hours.

Thats just my example, we are regulated by things such as MLC under the ILO however its often said that the Shipping industry is 10-15 years behind aviation in terms of safety etc.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 14:15
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I guess we all know that it's a pretty unhealthy occupation, when I started the average life expectancy after retirement was less than 5 years!
You could give up smoking, drinking, women, do hours of exercise every day, go to bed by 9pm for a healthy lifestyle. Will this make you live longer? I don't know, but it sure as hell will feel like it!
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 14:16
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Life is tough on your body. As an old Lt Col said, “you pays your money, take your chances”. No one gets out alive.

GF
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 14:21
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The changing schedules are one factor. Two other big ones are
1. Irregular schedules, which can make it difficult to find time to exercise.

2. Airport food. Not terrible if you travel every once in a while, but when you've got xx minutes between flights, and you need xx+1 minutes to do what you have to do, it's a lot easier to get a burger and fries right next to your gate, than looking around the airport for something healthier.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 14:53
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I recently finished reading "Why We Sleep" which is sobering read including the long term health hazards of repeated sleep disruption - I highly recommend it to anyone involved in safety critical industries such as airline flying.

The author states (backed up by evidence) that we are now living in a sleep deprived society for many different reasons. In particular the sleep which is missed is typically the last 2 hours of a 7/8 hour sleep where individuals have to wake up to an alarm clock (for example for early work duties). This last two hours is in fact the most important part of a night's sleep. During sleep we go through several cycles of non REM and REM sleep which are all essential especially from a health standpoint. The length of REM sleep increases with each cycle so if you miss the last 2 hours you're missing out in a proportionately higher way.

The author also mentions the difficulty he has when talking to CEOs etc of companies and convincing them (with proof) that sleep deprived employees are less likely to be productive etc.

Why We Sleep Why We Sleep


Another factor worth mentioning is that before the requirement for flight deck doors to be locked it was quite common for pilots to get out the seat to stretch their legs every now and again and even walk down the back to talk to the passengers. Now they are virtually imprisoned on the flight deck.

Also consider this from a pure financial point of view. In the early 1980s when flying for a leading charter airline we worked out that if we lost one pilot (whether due failed medical or moving to another employer) it cost the company around £20,000 to replace him/her with another pilot in terms of having to have adequate training staff and infrastructure etc. I wonder in today's money what the equivalent amount would be although I am aware that the odd loco makes a "profit" on their training "machine".

Finally, slightly off thread but interesting to note that the circadian rhythm of adolescents is about 2/3 hours different from adults. So when you have difficulty getting your teenager out of bed in the morning it's simply because for various reasons nature has programmed them for a different circadian rhythm. Many mental health conditions such as schizophrenia start in adolescence and the author suggests this is caused by insufficient sleep and that school times should be adjusted for this age group (e.g. start at 1000, finish at 1900) for this reason. School start times have become progressively earlier with many children having to wake at 0600 or even earlier to catch the school bus for early school start times and/or "breakfast clubs". I'd just finished reading this section of the book and switched the news on to hear about the shooting at a school in Florida which got me thinking! You have to read the book to read some compelling evidence on how mental health issues can be tracked back to repeated sleep disruption. There are also ramifications for sleep deprived aircrew and their long term mental health, I believe.

Last edited by fireflybob; 12th Mar 2018 at 15:18.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 16:04
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There is a long thread about organophosphate poisoning elsewhere on PPRuNe Toxic Cabin Air
I believe that unless you spend your career on the 787 or at Easyjet there is a distinct possibility this will ruin your health.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 16:56
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I'm sure a lot of people who live back in the real world working every hour god sends to barely even make ends meat would kill to work even the 'worst' pilots shifts.

Just have a look at some of the Amazon warehouse workers, and they're the lucky ones

Or, Merchant Navy workers. If you're lucky you get to do 12 hours on 12 hours off, every single day, for 3 months straight. Or if you're Philippino, you do that for 2 years straight before getting 3 months off to see your family - then repeat.

If you're really unlucky, you get stuck on a vessel which does 6's.... ie, 6 hours on, 6 hours off, repeat for months on end. Never more than 6 hours sleep in a single go
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 17:08
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Originally Posted by 750XL View Post
I'm sure a lot of people who live back in the real world working every hour god sends to barely even make ends meat would kill to work even the 'worst' pilots shifts.

Just have a look at some of the Amazon warehouse workers, and they're the lucky ones

Or, Merchant Navy workers. If you're lucky you get to do 12 hours on 12 hours off, every single day, for 3 months straight. Or if you're Philippino, you do that for 2 years straight before getting 3 months off to see your family - then repeat.

If you're really unlucky, you get stuck on a vessel which does 6's.... ie, 6 hours on, 6 hours off, repeat for months on end. Never more than 6 hours sleep in a single go
Glad someone else can relate to life in the MN, and as i said above- absolutely no guarantee of a nights sleep.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 18:48
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My sister-in-law was a FA for 30 years, starting at PanAm. She had to retire a few years earlier than the wanted as she was diagnosed with cancer. While there is no concrete proof all her medical bills have been paid from airline insurance funds so don't forget the possible extra radiation you can possibly get over the years at altitude.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 21:06
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Thank you all for the responses, truly appreciate the insight.
I do realise that there is no way to have a job like this without it effecting our health negatively.
The idea is simply to try and minimise these "risks".
I quit smoking 1 year ago. When I realised how tired my body would be from all the flying, time differences, sleep deprivation, I concluded that I could not have an addiction that will further make things worse.

I've flown plenty of guys in their 50s, some early 60s that are very active, are very healthy, and look very young for their age, and it didnt surprise me that these were always the guys that didn't smoke, ate healthier, and tried hard to compensate for the tough work environment. And the opposite was also true with young and unhealthy guys.

A TRE I flew with many times during my training who realised that I am an athlete(who happens to be a professional athlete himself), was a guy that I picked up a lot of these habits from. As a young guy, I did not care about these things before he started speaking to me about them.
Just like I am now, he was always cautious of his habits, and watching and asking him/talking about how he dealt with it has taught me a lot.

He always(as much as possible) got his own meals, he would drink tons of water, minimal coffee as much as possible, he would use sunscreen to protect his skin from the ageing effects of radiation, and again it was really no surprise that he looked a good 10 years or so younger than his age.

I appreciate your comments a ton. It's always nice learning from others that have been in the same situation.
I understand that some guys have the mindset that this is a silly thing to worry about, but for the guys that do put an active effort to be extra cautious, its always nice to learn from likeminded guys.
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 21:11
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Originally Posted by framer View Post
What are they? Iím sure youíre probably right but Iíd be interested to know what other jobs have you starting at 6pm on Monday and finishing 12 hours later after two 3.5 hour sectors, then having one day off before starting at 5 am ( 3 am alarm) and doing another 12 hour Duty. Then on Saturday starting at 2pm for another 12 hour day, having another single day off before starting at 5 am again ( 3 am alarm) etc etc etc.
Most shift workers I can think of do a week of earlies, a week of mids then a week of lates , not this job. The duties are so random that after a month you feel rubbish, after a year you are worn out, and after a decade you have health problems.
I feel like an old man and I run 20 miles a week and am not really that old.
Iím working it so I can get out and keep the house simply so I can meet grand childeren when they come.
Edited to say that Scribble posted at the same time.
You are absolutely right in that it is not as inconsistent as our job, however nurses have pretty bad shifts where I live. Lots of medical specialists as well work all nighters and are very often sleep deprived.

On a professional level, almost all of my friends that are investment bankers, or consultants, or auditors, especially the ones that are doing very well, these guys sleep probably 3-5 hours a day on weekdays.
They work 14-15 hour shifts, they bring work home with them, they often work on weekends, and they wish that sleep deprivation was their only "struggle".
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Old 12th Mar 2018, 22:00
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I agree nurses and young doctors have terrible rosters and are expected to work silly hours.
I’m not so sure about the professionals you mention, I have three neighbours, a lawyer, an accountant, and a mechanical Engineer. They all have 9-5 jobs , bring a bit of work home sometimes, and take each and every weekend and bank holiday off. Their sleep patterns are constant unless they all jump in the spa pool together on a Friday night .
The MN sounds terrible, one thing I would point out though is that with 3 months on 3 months off you do get to recover. I am finding that after ten years of unstable rosters that chop and change from late to early then back again, when I get a week or maybe two weeks off I am only just starting to recover before I am back into it again.
I love the actual flying but am working through my plan to get to the financial state where I can change jobs without it impacting the wife and kids too much purely because of ‘efficient rostering’. I would love to do 85 hours of lates or 85 hours of earlies a month rather than 75 hours of chop and change but the software doesn’t like it so it won’t happen.
Good question anyway Meatlover, good luck with your quest to stay on top of it.
I’m not sure of your age or if you have children but keep in mind that when you hit 40 and have kids a lot more is asked of you. It isn’t a case of finishing work and flopping onto the couch to watch Netflix or tootling off to the gym to work on your personal well-being, but you might already know that.
Cheers,
Framer
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Old 13th Mar 2018, 00:02
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Well, look at the air you are breathing...

I see to remember something about the radiation exposure, much less shielding and much more exposure from the suns harmful radiation?


For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies airline crewmembers as radiation workers.

In fact, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reported in 2009 that aircrews have, on average, the highest yearly dose of radiation out of all radiation-exposed workers in the US.


http://www.businessinsider.com/airpl...titude-2015-11

Even the FAA is on it...

https://www.faa.gov/data_research/re.../radiobiology/

https://www.faa.gov/data_research/re...biology/cari7/
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Old 13th Mar 2018, 07:26
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Pretty much what basil said...itís a case of balance.

A lot can depend on your particular set of T&Cs, contracts, rostering etc, and a lot is down to personal choice. I do think some individuals get so obsessed with lifestyle and health issues that they are going to worry themselves into health problems.

Last edited by wiggy; 13th Mar 2018 at 09:06.
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Old 13th Mar 2018, 08:47
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There are worse jobs out there that can lead to an early death or poor health. The biggest contribution to your health you can make is taking care of yourself. Avoid stress, try to get your body's optimum sleep each night (6-9 hours), eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, minimize carbohydrates and processed foods, exercise regularly, and drink... lots of water, not so much coffee and keep the alcohol consumption within reason.

Do screen yourself for skin cancer regularly. For whatever reason, our group seems to be at a higher risk of melanoma. Some think its caused by exposure to ionizing radiation, due to high altitude flight and operations in high latitudes.
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Old 14th Mar 2018, 08:55
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Unhealthy

In the 80s I tried to stop our company from extending retirement age to 58 and got a bunch of mortality figures. The only surprising bit was that long haul was statistically healthier than short haul legacy.
I have had a host of illness, often being told that it was psychosomatic purely because they didn't find the cause.
My first lot was in the 70s when I was given a week to live. I believe this was aerotoxic syndrome due to several significant smoke incidents. For the first time I was told I was a nervous pilot and should resign.
My second lot was probally due to Salmonella from Karachi but never confirmed. I collapsed after landing in Jeddah.
My third lot lasted 18 months and was only cured by a double dose of the strongest sulphonomide which made me allergic to the drug. A 23 year old hostess on my crew died. At a guess it was a bacterial lung infection from a west African pax. Again I was told that it was psychosomatic.
The next four years was relatively healthy until I went onto the DC10. Two lots of malaria, a year of diarrhoea passing blood much of the time, extended visits to tropical diseases, stress ECG with a resus team in case my ticker stopped. Lots of special diets and back to the psychosomatic cop out.Migraines on extra long flights.
Given a special return to short haul and then command. Things got better especially as I took a couple of months unpaid leave a year but after a head injury and breakdown I lost my license.
At the time of my problems on the DC10 we had a lot of loss of licenses due to mental health and several crew members with stroke symptoms. Another few died from brain tumours and heart attacks.
My views.
I believe both of my major problems were due to neurotoxins. The first from air conditioning smoke and the second Larium but I'm not ruling out aerotoxic.
A lot of our passengers were from exotic destinations and brought with them exotic bacteria, it is not very different to east London where one of my grand children is in and out of hospital with unknown chest problems.
So we sit in a tube breathing in exhaled air from all over the world although if you fly loco you don't have that problem.
My long haul migraines stopped except when I flew flights of more than five hours mainly around 13,000ft in the alps without oxygen. Our dc10 air quality was a particular problem because most of our crossings were way north and polar plus our engineers would turn off packs to save fuel.
My loss of license was due to depression but I have lost my short term memory and senses of taste and smell. I have permanent tinitus as well as a personality change.I stopped airline flying 22 years ago and after 7 years felt confident enough to instruct on gliders which I did for 8 years but felt that in my late 50s I was starting to make small mistakes so quit. The type of gliding I did was far more challenging than airline work. I now paraglide, again very challenging. I 've flown 4,000 hours plus since I lost my license and generally my health has improved. My short term memory slightly in spite of increasing age (68). I am now celiac, which I think I have been for a long time. This was diagnosed three years ago after an overdose of cortisone (motorcycle race track injury). My bowel movements are now more normal than at any time since 1975.I have had a minor blood disorder for a decade which they don't know the cause which I ignore after all I've got to die from something.
To sum up. It depends on the routes,company, aircraft, maintenance, genes and luck. You won't find anyone admitting the dodgy aircraft, oils, drugs and radiation.
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